After the murderer behind the horrific Christchurch mosque attack fatally shot 50 people, leaving 50 others injured, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg must have promptly felt the backlash.
His platform had played an important role in the bloodbath, as the shooter used Facebook’s live feature to stream the attacks as they unfolded. But instead of apologizing and simply focusing on how the company plans to fix things, Zuckerberg took to the Washington Post to write about how this tragic episode turned him into a passionate supporter of government regulation.
In his op-ed, the father of two who never leaves the house without armed security wrote that big tech should be open to more government regulation in four particular areas: privacy, harmful content, data portability, and election integrity.
Using Christchurch as a justification, Zuckerberg wrote that “we need a more active role for governments and regulators” in order to “preserve what’s best about [the internet] — the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things — while also protecting society from broader harms.”
As with his position on gun rights, Zuckerberg seems to believe that more government intervention will somehow make us safer, fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of government regulations. Furthermore, the head and founder of one of the largest tech companies in the world seems clueless as to what it means to keep the internet free. After all, he believes a robust regulatory scheme would boost freedom — despite all evidence to the contrary.
Thankfully, the Financial Times reports, the Silicon Valley giant “failed to win over privacy advocates and politicians.”
On Twitter, the Democratic chair of the House of Representatives’ antitrust subcommittee, David Cicilline, accused Zuckerberg of trying to write the rules, adding that “Facebook is under criminal and civil investigation. It has shown it cannot regulate itself. Does anyone even want his advice?”
Digital Content Next CEO Jason Kint also criticized the Facebook founder, calling the op-ed a “public relations effort.” To him, Zuckerberg’s suggestions are nothing but a failed attempt at regaining the public’s trust.
Whether regulators will fall for Zuckerberg’s recommendations or not, it is clear that they don’t need Facebook’s advice to think up horrific ways to limit our freedom online. As a matter of fact, Cicilline himself supports the implementation of a version of the Glass-Steagall Act rules adapted to the technology industry. So why is Zuckerberg trying so hard to impress regulators?
Fear of Being Left Out
Government regulation isn’t just bad because it ignores the unintended consequences that restrictions produce over time. Regulation is also bad because it invites cronyism.
Zuckerberg’s platform seldom thinks of its customers. As a matter of fact, Facebook has a history of lying to advertisers doing business with the site as well as lying to users, who have long been led to believe the social media site cares about their privacy. It’s no wonder that young people are ditching Facebook.
With so many issues making Facebook less trustworthy, it’s only a matter of time until a new platform takes over. And it is precisely this fear of being pushed over the edge that is making Zuckerberg rethink his approach to regulation.
With government drafting legislation that sets a “standard” for the industry and Zuckerberg inserting himself in the process, the company is able to help raise barriers to entry to other, less established firms and entrepreneurs. The result is precisely what the billionaire CEO might be after: power over the market.
With regulation helping Facebook stand undefeated, Zuckerberg would be able to solidify his monopoly.
In addition, Facebook could benefit in other ways, as it may be spared from legal liability when things don’t go as planned.
As you can see, it is the promise of endless benefits that often make industry leaders look at regulations with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, lawmakers and proponents of the process like to sell these rules as necessary measures to keep us safe, persuading the public that more government involvement is essential.
As you can see, it’s clear Zuckerberg has all the incentives to show the government he’s there to help make regulations more effective. But it’s not because he’s a kind businessman who’s worried about people’s safety. What he’s after is more power, but not the kind you obtain by being a legitimate source of influence. Instead, he has his eyes on a prize that only the government can offer.