At the risk of making the understatement of the century, the global conversation about Facebook has changed.
When the New York Times first talked about the site in 2005, founder Mark Zuckerberg was a literal “whiz kid” ambitiously recruiting high schoolers to his web site. Earlier this weekend, New Zealand privacy commissioner John Edwards called the company “morally bankrupt pathological liars.”
In New Zealand and Australia, the people and politicians are nursing still-fresh wounds after the deadly massacre in a Christchurch mosque was live-streamed on Facebook and then footage spread across social media.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern criticized Silicon Valley’s response and lack of responsibility while Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is vowing fines and even jail time for social networks that don’t promptly remove violent content. More than that, Morrison will lobby other countries around the world to impose more strict rules as well.
Edwards took to Twitter this weekend when Zuckerberg, in an interview with the American television network ABC, refused to commit to changing Facebook’s live streaming platform which is where the Christchurch shooting was streamed.
“Facebook cannot be trusted,” Edwards tweeted. “They are morally bankrupt pathological liars who enable genocide (Myanmar), facilitate foreign undermining of democratic institutions. [They] allow the live streaming of suicides, rapes, and murders, continue to host and publish the mosque attack video, allow advertisers to target ‘Jew haters’ and other hateful market segments, and refuse to accept any responsibility for any content or harm.”
A Facebook spokesperson responded by pointing to COO Sheryl Sandberg’s recent statements.
“We are deeply committed to strengthening our policies, improving our technology and working with experts to keep Facebook safe,” the spokesperson said. “Recently, our COO, Sheryl Sandberg, shared the policy and technical steps we’re taking to strengthen the rules for using Facebook Live, address hate on our platforms, and support the New Zealand community.”
Sandberg’s comments include that the company is “exploring restrictions” on who can use the Facebook Live platform.
Edwards later deleted the tweets and instead linked to an interview he gave on the topic:
In the Radio New Zealand interview, Edwards said Facebook Live had the potential of “causing great harm” and pushed the social network to put stricter controls on the technology including time delays or “turn it off altogether” until fixes are in place.
New Zealand is far from the only place where the conversation about Facebook has changed.
Over in Europe (or is it not in Europe at this point? I’m confused), British politicians presented a proposal on Monday to make social media companies responsible for content posted on their platforms.
More and more American presidential candidates have either criticized Silicon Valley’s social media platforms or have outlined specific policy proposals to rein in the global tech hub’s power.
Senator Elizabeth Warren wants to break up big tech firms, Amy Klobuchar wants stronger enforcement of antitrust laws, Cory Booker has criticized Silicon Valley for profiting off of private data. Virtually every Democratic candidate has at some point during this campaign put crosshairs on Silicon Valley.
Across the aisle, the president and the Republican Party are, for the most part, making Silicon Valley out to be the great oppressor of conservative views. Trump, both one of the most powerful men in the world and a guy who embodies the phrase professional victim, tweets a few times per week about how various tech giants are suppressing his supporters.
Last week, Gizmodo reported that United Nations investigators are frustrated with Facebook’s efforts in fighting hate speech in Myanmar where it was determined that social media — Facebook in particular — played a role in genocide and ongoing ethnic violence and persecution that persists to this day.
We’re in a strange and crucial stage of the conversation around Facebook and by extension, much of Silicon Valley—some sort of regulation seems inevitable. The question is what comes next and, as that chatter plays out in seats of power around the globe, expect hard-elbowed jockeying in both public and private over legislation, elections, policy and anything that can touch Silicon Valley.
In a lot of ways, it’s not too much to say that the future of the internet is being hashed out in this very moment.