Lorie Shaull photo
The Facebook hearings last week made great television. It was thoroughly enjoyable watching a 33-yearold po-faced techno nerd run circles around the best and brightest that Capitol Hill has to offer.
Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz was particularly unappealing when he emphatically demanded to know if the Facebook CEO had asked his 27,000 employees what their political affiliation was. Zuckerberg assumed a quizzical look that was a cross between concern and humour and replied “No.”
Does right-wing Texan Ted Cruz’s question mean that if he is ever elected president every US employer will have to politically screen his employees? Will they all have to be registered Republicans? Wasn’t a similar system used in the communist states in Eastern Europe?
Setting that aside, the hearings were important for two things: One, that Zuckerberg accepted that Facebook was responsible for the content on its web pages and two, that he accepted the need for regulation to protect privacy and prevent the misuse of Facebook pages by racists, misogynists, terrorists, criminals, or any other groups of people who would also be banned from the traditional media.
And therein lies the rub. Up until now Facebook has refused to acknowledge that it is like every other media operation. It claimed that it was a completely neutral forum. If was more like a cyberspace town hall, pub or coffee shop where anyone and everyone in the world could come to exchange ideas and share the fun.
In fact, in media terms it would be more accurate to describe Facebook’s role as a cross between a publisher, newsagent and distributor. If that is right, then new regulations are unnecessary. Most countries have data protection laws. They just need to be enforced against Facebook.
Most countries also have libel laws or laws against the incitement to commit crimes. These laws usually apply to the person who initiated the story, that is the writer or the broadcaster; the editor who approved the story; the publisher who published it; the distributor who distributed it and even the shopkeeper who sold the magazine or newspaper. Those same laws need to be applied to social media.
If they are then Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and co will be faced with a barrage of financially crippling prosecutions from around the world. They will have no choice – like the traditional media before them – but to employ teams of expensive lawyers to plough through their postings.
I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, www.fensinformation.com) which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.
In addition to being a syndicated broadcaster and columnist on global affairs, Tom is also available for speaking engagements and can be contacted on Twitter, Linkedin and email: [email protected].