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Mark Zuckerberg would do well to address Facebook’s problems before calling in the politicians to help sort out the internet

Enrique Dans
Mar 31 · 3 min read

Mark Zuckerberg’s op-ed in Saturday’s Washington Post, “The Internet needs new rules. Let’s start in these four areas”, once again highlights the issue of regulating social networks, which has so far resisted such efforts: speaking in light of the myriad problems supposedly due to the absence of regulation, along wit some attempts by Facebook itself to impose some control over the content it publishes, Zuckerberg is calling for governments to take a more active role in controlling harmful content, preventing interference in electoral processes, safeguarding privacy, and allowing people to transfer their data from one app to another, otherwise known as data portability.

Zuckerberg’s arguments are based on a fundamental error: the idea that “the internet needs new rules”, as if it were some kind of special place or regulation-free zone and it was necessary to write the rules from scratch. We’ve grown used to hearing legislators call for greater regulation of the internet, but somebody like Zuckerberg, who understands the web, should know better. Greater regulation will simply open the door to new laws that will be ignored because they cannot be enforced, which, as Albert Einstein rightly pointed out, is the fastest way to destroy respect for a government.

In short, the internet does not need new laws, instead, those that already exist need to be enforced. The only logical way to approach internet regulation is based on laws we have all long accepted in the real world. If it is illegal to broadcast or publish certain things in the wider world, why should it be possible to do so online? Where did the idea that anything goes on the internet come from? Insult, defamation, harassment or whatever: if we want to tackle them, then just apply the law as it stands.

Freedom of opinion and expression are already well regulated in wider society. Why do we need new laws for the internet? If it’s illegal to defame somebody in the traditional media, and the result is likely to be a lawsuit, why should it be any different online? Contrary to popular opinion, it is not easier to hide behind anonymity on the internet.

Asking the authorities to be more active in passing specific regulations for the internet is an invitation disaster. Firstly, because some politicians will see it as a vote winner, even though they have no idea what they’re doing. Secondly, because one country cannot regulate a global internet or impose its rules on others: that would require some kind of supranational body respected by every government around the world.

Instead, the only way to regulate the internet is for individual countries to stop seeing it as something exceptional and to see it as a part of our new reality, an area in which exactly the same laws that govern the rest of society must apply. The last thing we want is a scenario where governments everywhere all rush to regulate the internet according to their concerns and social pressure. Instead, let’s take a common sense approach and apply the legislation that already exists, which is usually the result of a broad social consensus obtained over the years.

Zuckerberg would do better to start applying existing legislation to Facebook rather than making appeals to governments to help him out in his lonely quest. Were he to do so, he would of course have to eliminate content and the discussion of topics that outside the internet are illegal. Let’s be clear about this: there is no difference between standing on a street corner handing out pamphlets inciting hatred and publishing it on the Internet.

I’m not sure what’s behind Zuckerberg’s call to arms — other than passing the hot potato to someone else — but I do know that we don’t need any more regulation of the internet and that we need to keep politicians as far away from this area as possible, for all our sakes. I repeat: let’s just apply existing laws and let each of us address our own responsibilities.


(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

Enrique Dans

Written by

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

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