Last month, CreativeFuture asked you, our followers, what you thought about platform responsibility. Little did we know that, in the meantime, the issue would start taking over the front pages of our newspapers and websites!
In a nutshell, the issue is whether Google, Facebook, and their Silicon Valley peers should take responsibility for the ways their platforms are used to violate our laws and harm society.
Even before the House and Senate passed landmark legislation to demand accountability from the tech giants and even before Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica mess exploded, we asked your views on a few simple questions that came down to one thing: do you believe that Google and Facebook should be more responsible?
The answer, overwhelmingly, was that you do – and you had a lot to add in response. Here are just some of your comments:
- “The organizations who own these platforms make enormous profits. They have a responsibility to make sure the platforms are not being used to harm others.”
- “They have the greatest ability to do so. And a moral responsibility. Just because it’s a newer technology doesn’t exempt them.”
- “Because if they are able to control it, and I believe that they can, then they should be held accountable and responsible if they don’t.”
- “They are providing the service that is being used for these malicious acts. They are responsible! They need to find a solution and be held accountable!”
- “Violations of the law should be prosecuted. To avoid prosecution, they should take proactive steps to prevent violations.”
- “They created these platforms, they should be responsible for them. They are beyond wealthy from them and can afford to police them. U.S. laws should apply everywhere in the U.S., including [the internet]!”
- “Times change, services change, service providers change. Rules must keep up with changes.”
- “Hostile foreign governments are using internet social platforms to publish untrue propaganda in order to destabilize our nation … if they can’t or won’t [monitor their platforms], they should be heavily fined and shut down. It is their responsibility for doing business in this country.”
- “Responsibility is part of having a business.”
- “[Google and Facebook] are no different from any other corporation which has the responsibility not to enable breaking the law. They are complicit and just a guilty as those breaking the law.”
- “I can’t believe we even have to ask this question. I am sick and tired of corporations bearing no responsibility for the effects of their services on people. If a crime is occurring and the corporation looks the other way, that cannot be allowed any longer.”
- “They don’t want the responsibility of accountability because complying would eat into profits with no returns. So, it will NEVER happen unless it is legislated.”
- “The internet has become perhaps the single most important source of information and communication in the world. It cannot just rake in profits and not be responsible for what they have created.”
This week, on April 10 and 11, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify twice before Congress on the issues facing his company, and Silicon Valley generally. We expect that Zuckerberg will be very well prepped by his army of lawyers. We anticipate that he will try to reassure Congress that Facebook is doing all it can to (1) protect the privacy of its users; (2) prevent foreign influence on its advertising networks; and (3) stop rampant violations of the law from being carried out on their platform.
But Congress should not settle for head-pats and platitudes. They need to ask some hard and direct questions. We hope they will include the following:
- The abuse of Facebook users’ private data is a critically important issue, but it is only one of the concerns about the failure of Facebook (and Silicon Valley generally) to act responsibly. There are also concerns about Silicon Valley’s role in disseminating fake news, facilitating sex trafficking, allowing foreign governments to influence American elections, and enabling the theft of American creative content. These and many other harms to Americans need to be recognized and stopped. What exactly is Facebook planning to do to meaningfully respond to these concerns?
- As a leader in Silicon Valley, do you see Facebook’s business practices as a symptom of a wider problem across the technology industry? Will you acknowledge that the law in this area – crafted decades ago when the internet we knew was Prodigy and AOL – goes too far in shielding those who fail to take responsibility for the harms caused by their platforms? How will Facebook take the lead in developing new business practices to alleviate this industry-wide problem?
- You recently acknowledged that Facebook is “not just building tools” and that it “need[s] to take full responsibility for the outcome and how people use those tools.” What does “full responsibility” look like? What meaningful role should the government play in protecting its citizens if Facebook fails in its responsibility?
- And lastly – the legal framework that has resulted in and allowed Facebook’s wholesale distribution of its users’ private information, has also enabled Facebook, and ultimately Google, to facilitate the illegal theft of creative content. What does Facebook’s new “broader view of our responsibility” mean with regard to the use of the Facebook platform to facilitate the piracy of creative works? Exactly what responsibility is Facebook willing to take?
While we understand that digital content theft is only one of many wrongs for which Silicon Valley needs to “take full responsibility,” that theft has a real and negative impact on the American economy. The core copyright industries account for 5.5 MILLION American jobs – their livelihoods matter and they are being threatened by Silicon Valley’s irresponsibility.
We should not pretend that a few privacy fixes will remedy everything that’s wrong. Platform responsibility is much bigger than that.
So, we hope Congress will demand change and hold these platforms responsible.
What’s your plan, Zuck? We’ll be watching. We want answers.
Image: Katherine Welles / Shutterstock.com