Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gets a regulation threat from EU tech chief

Zuckerberg and EU Industry Commissioner Breton on Monday discussed internet governance as well as the role of platforms in managing the coronavirus pandemic.

| Updated on: May 19 2020, 00:26 IST
Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg (Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook)
Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg (Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook)

The European Union's tech chief Thierry Breton said Facebook Inc. will face more regulation if Mark Zuckerberg fails to assuage concerns about market power, as the two men went toe-to-toe in a live-streamed debate.

Zuckerberg and EU Industry Commissioner Breton on Monday discussed internet governance as well as the role of platforms in managing the coronavirus pandemic, in a debate hosted by CERRE, the Center on Regulation in Europe. The conversation followed a face-to-face meeting between the two in Brussels in February.

“At the end of the day, if we cannot find a way, we will regulate, of course,” Breton said, adding later that “it will be Mark that will be responsible, nobody else.”

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The social media giant has been battling violent hate speech, disinformation and fraudulent posts related to the pandemic on its sites, while advertising revenue softens as a result of the crisis.

Zuckerberg said initiatives by the European Commission have resulted in platforms making changes to their businesses, including reducing the quality of video streaming to relieve networks strained by the coronavirus pandemic at Breton's urging.

Monday's debate between Facebook's chief executive officer and the senior EU official come as the EU prepares new legislation for gate-keeping tech platforms and around liability for users' posts, both of which could impact Facebook's business.

Breton, 65, joined the new European Commission in December as EU industry chief, a role that gives him jurisdiction over a wide range of portfolios, including the so-called Digital Services Act, which will overhaul platform's legal liability for content posted on its sites. EU tech czar Margrethe Vestager, whose hefty antitrust fines against Alphabet Inc.'s Google and others have earned her a reputation as big tech's fiercest nemesis, oversees the work.

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The talkative former CEO of IT company Atos and former French finance minister has sought to make a mark during his short time in office. Speaking frequently to French press, Breton often touts tough lines he's taken in discussions with Silicon Valley chiefs.

Zuckerberg has previously called for more regulation of the internet -- including around election integrity, harmful content, and privacy -- which in turn has raised questions around the sincerity of his efforts. A white paper published in February outlining the social media giant's vision for regulating harmful content online called for measures the company in large part already enforces, including implementing channels where users can report content and requiring periodic public reporting of companies' efforts to remove such posts.

Zuckerberg at the time also proposed a different regulatory system for his company around liability -- something that falls between how newspaper publishers, who can be sued for what journalists write in their pages, and telecommunications companies, who aren't liable for customer conversations, are regulated.The EU Industry Commissioner dismissed Zuckerberg's framing at the time. “Using the comparison of a telecom is probably not relevant,” Breton said after his meeting with the Facebook chief.

Written by Natalia Drozdiak.

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First Published Date: 19 May, 00:26 IST