Mr. Zuckerberg, take responsibility! Or why Facebook can never be an independent platform that provides users with the ultimate truth

Washington and Brussels call for far-reaching regulation for Facebook: Above all, it is the opinion of the world’s largest social network that politicians are suspicious of. But with increasing political intervention, the risk increases that Facebook will become an organ controlled by the state and special interests.

Don’t let the politicians lie – fact-checking is a must

It was only a matter of time before social networks themselves would become the subject of the US election campaign. Because at some point, a politician would demonstratively exceed the limits of what is still permitted on platforms such as Twitter or Facebook according to the company’s guidelines. And that has now happened: Twitter recently provided a tweet by the President of the United States about the susceptibility of postal elections to fraud with a “fact-checking label” and thus offered users further information on the subject, some of which was contrary to Trump’s post. Facebook even had a number of its posts deleted, which dealt with the problems of the left-wing militant network Antifa and which had used symbols that were also used by the National Socialists.

President Trump sees the measures as an interference with freedom of speech and wants to prevent such interference with the content published on the platforms in the future with the recently issued executive order “Protection against online censorship”. Meanwhile, leading employees of Facebook, parts of the advertising industry, many politicians and parts of the population of Facebook and Twitter are demanding exactly the opposite: “Intervene more in the content, don’t let the politicians lie – fact-checking is a must”, says they argue.

The current regulation of social networks in the United States

In general, a dispute has arisen in the USA about how social networks should deal with content. It is hardly surprising that there is no consensus in this polarized country about what is only keen rhetoric or perhaps a call for violence, and that in the hot climate a post is quickly referred to as a false message or disinformation, even though the content is only controversial. The Americans will elect their President in five months. And the political establishment is shaking with the influence that Facebook, Twitter and Youtube could have on the outcome of the elections. Whether politicians, lobbyists, civic associations, trade unions, advertisers or employees: in the end, they all want to be in charge of what can be posted on Facebook, Twitter or Youtube. Private opinion now needs state borders – social media regulation is required. Such efforts are also being made in Brussels.

But instead of regulation that offers politicians a gateway, it needed framework conditions that strengthen responsibilities and market mechanisms. Do we want the political influence on such essential opinion platforms like Facebook or YouTube to increase? Which opinion will be considered acceptable on Facebook in the future, if discussions about topics like racism, environmental protection or American politics often threaten the emotional, moralizing club of opinion?

What was needed rather than the influence of moralizing opinion leaders on Facebook would be a competition-promoting regulation that, first of all, transferred to Mark Zuckerberg what an entrepreneur had to carry: responsibility. Secondly, it would be a matter of adjusting the business model, in which the user would finally have to become a customer (today he is the product). And thirdly, any regulation should start from a responsible and courageous media consumer and strengthen them.

The current regulation of social networks in the United States dates back to the childhood days of the Internet. Long before Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook, the American legislature had already created the ideal legal conditions for its success. At that time, in 1996 – Zuckerberg was just eleven years old – the Communication Decency Act (CDA) was passed in the USA. It was the time of the first Internet service providers (ISP), and the main aim was to prevent pornographically but also other inappropriate content from poisoning the climate on the Internet. Article 230 decoupled the right to intervene from the obligation to be ultimately responsible for the remaining content:

According to popular belief, these 26 words created the Internet. They became the legal business foundation of Facebook, which was founded in 2004. The social network is still a neutral platform on which users post their content. The company assumes responsibility for this to a minimal extent by referring to Article 230. There are no limits to Facebook’s growth: Today, several hundred million posts are posted on Facebook every day; 2.8 billion people access the social network every month.

Facebook, like a publisher, has to take responsibility for what is seen on its pages is

However, Facebook generally only has to assume responsibility for what happens on the platform in exceptional cases. And if you don’t want that at all, you’d better retreat to the position of neutrality. Facebook’s impartiality or independence is an illusion. Of course, the company intervenes massively in the news feed – this is the stream of content that reaches the user on his own Facebook page. Facebook’s algorithms control what the user gets to see when and how often. Your goal is to keep the user on the page as long as possible. Because the longer he is on the page, the more advertising Facebook can show him. The more Facebook can learn from the user (via his posts, the likes distributed by him, the Internet pages that he uses when he has long left Facebook has, etc.), the more expensive it is to sell advertising space to advertisers. Ultimately, the user is the product that Facebook sells to the advertising industry.

The group is increasingly countering the criticism that is increasingly permeating Facebook that it is a platform for false information and campaigns for disinformation, with self-regulation: General rules of conduct, fact-checkers and a newly established oversight board are intended to walk the tightrope walk between freedom of movement resulting from the CDA law Manage opinions and exceed the limit of what is permissible. Facebook now pays a whole army of external, supposedly objective fact-checkers. They check controversial posts for their truthfulness. Depending on the result, Facebook removes such positions, or the algorithms ensure that they slide far down in the newsfeed and become virtually invisible. And the twenty-member oversight board, which is staffed by external experts is to decide in disputes and doubts whether the content has been rightly removed or marked with comments from Facebook.


But this type of self-regulation is hugely problematic. First, Facebook is getting very close to publishing. Second, it is based on the false assumption that there is only one truth and that facts are separate from opinion. However, an allegedly objective assessment of a controversial claim does not necessarily refute the latter.

Against this background and given the increasing attempts by politicians to exert institutional influence on Facebook and its content, it would be time to create clear responsibilities: Facebook, like a publisher, has to take responsibility for what is seen on its pages is. This responsibility would mean Facebook’s duty to remove illegal content. It would also give the company the freedom to edit, classify (according to fact or opinion), curate and select content according to its style. That would massively change the face of Facebook today. Facebook could no longer hide behind the illusion of neutrality, and users could no longer be deceived by it. It would probably be assumed that Facebook would become less attractive as an advertising platform for the advertising industry. Users might be asked to checkout. But with that, they would finally become a product and a customer, and Facebook would become their product, not an advertiser.

At the same time, competition in the social network market should finally be stimulated: it should be possible to switch from Facebook, including all contacts and connections – the so-called social graph – to another social network. Just as in the mobile phone market the right to take the phone number to another provider that made the competition play properly, the portability of the social graph should be guaranteed. The design of the various social networks would then be guided more by user demand and not by politics and interest groups, as is to be feared in the future.

But the social media user cannot avoid one thing: he must act as a responsible and courageous media consumer. It is not brave to arbitrarily topple historical statues from the pedestal in virtual rooms, to ban opinions that deviate from the mainstream or to raise demands for the protection of minorities or the environment to a quasi-religion. It is also not brave to indulge in the illusion that there could be a Facebook that will provide users with the ultimate truth as an independent platform. Responsible citizens dare to deal with the ideas of dissenters on social networks, and they can do it rationally and critically.

Smart censorship or how Facebook suppresses criticism of his boss

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg likes to sing the song of freedom of expression. But when it comes to criticizing oneself, this promise becomes strangely hollow.

Despite all the rumors to the contrary, Facebook remains the gateway to the world for hundreds of millions of people. According to a survey by Pew Research, more than every second adult US citizen (52 percent) now receives messages on Facebook. Against the backdrop of the recent data scandals and fake news flood, this trust may come as a surprise. But in the United States, where a fifth of all newspapers have had to close since 2004 and no longer have local newspapers in many regions, Facebook is entering a vacuum. The company has launched a $ 300 million fund with which it funded editorial projects. Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg had issued the motto years ago to create “the perfect personalized newspaper for everyone in the world” with Facebook. The fact that Facebook of all people is the savior of journalism is not without a certain irony. After all, the company fueled the newspaper extinction itself by skimming the advertising market.

Facebook is committed to openness and transparency on every occasion.

The only question is whether Facebook can replace local newspapers on an equal footing – and whether the company will succeed in creating a critical public. Facebook is not just a platform that creates publicity but, at the same time, a company that is itself the subject of public criticism. Facebook is committed to openness and transparency on every occasion. But the demands of a “global, informed community”, which Zuckerberg announced with a lot of pathos, do not seem to apply when it comes to criticism of one’s own company.

When Mark Zuckerberg recently gave a speech about the dangers of censorship that was streamed live on Facebook at Georgetown University in Washington, users saw a flood of positive comments and emojis. Of course, some users responded to the speech with negative comments and emojis. Just: They weren’t shown. “You are an idol for the young generation,” wrote one. Another thanked “the fantastic social media platform” as if Facebook were a gift from God. While Zuckerberg salbered about freedom of speech, freedom of expression in their system was restricted.

One does not know whether the positive-minded users were bots or followers of a Facebook sect. In any case, the comments dripped with homage. Criticism? Nothing. Instead: smileys and thumbs up.

While Zuckerberg said about freedom of speech and appealed to Martin Luther King, freedom of expression in his system was restricted. Only after the statement was over did you reread more critical articles. A Facebook spokesman later said that the social network on live streams could not display all comments in real-time due to the sheer volume. That would mean: The negative comments have disappeared in the crowd. So it was pure coincidence that all Zuckerberg cheered.

Facebook sorts public comments according to several criteria, including “integrity signals” and interaction patterns. There is nothing in the catalog of measures to moderate the content.

But this strange selectivity may have a systemic cause. In essence, the algorithm, the Washington Post speculated, could have suppressed negative comments so as not to disavow Zuckerberg in front of his audience. The newspaper did not explain how exactly this “switch-off device” works. At least the algorithm could have been temporarily set to prioritize benevolent requests to speak.

Interferers are switched off. Smart censorship.

A photo taken on May 16, 2012 shows a computer screen displaying the logo of social networking site Facebook reflected in a window before the Beijing skyline. With investors hungry for Facebook shares ahead of a hotly anticipated offering, the social network unveiled a 25 percent increase in the number of shares to be sold at the market debut. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

Whatever was going on in Facebook’s engine room: The events are reminiscent of authoritarian systems, where critical banners are not shown in the state media when the dictator makes a public appearance, or regime critics are led away by the police. On Facebook, you don’t have to remove opponents by force or use force in any other way – it is enough to set the algorithms so that criticism is not shown at all. Interferers are switched off. Smart censorship.

Facebook’s double standard of freedom of expression is not a new phenomenon. Last year, “Bloomberg” reported that since 2016 Facebook employees had been using a secret software program called “Stormchaser” to track down viral posts that put the company in a bad light – for example, the massively shared rumor that Facebook discloses private information if one does not share a chain letter. Or the rumor that the company is listening to the smartphone microphones of its users. Jokes about Mark Zuckerberg that caricatured him as an alien were also scrutinized by the employees. The inspectors also carefully examined activities of the #DeleteFacebook movement, which formed after the data scandal and meant poor publicity for the company. In some cases, employees actively deleted posts. According to Bloomberg, there are numerous other tools for internal reputation management in addition to “Stormchaser.”

With its algorithms, Facebook can level down or mute unwanted voices.

The example shows how Facebook misuses its market power as a quasi-monopolist. If you consider that Mark Zuckerberg is said to have ambitions for the White House, a new complex of power appears here that can hardly be stopped with democratic control mechanisms. Facebook is an arbitrator on its behalf. With its algorithms, the company can level down or mute undesirable voices – and thus become immune to external criticism.

Even with the data scandal surrounding the analytics company Cambridge Analytica, one had the impression that hardly any critical articles on the subject were displayed in the newsfeed. Maybe that was because of the filter bubble, but perhaps this hiding also had systemic causes.

Zuckerberg’s rigid domestic policy, which contrasts so strangely with his pseudo-humanist foreign policy, points to the problem that the political will-formation processes on the Internet have shifted to private platforms. Facebook is a virtual shopping mall in which house rights apply and fundamental freedoms, and “visitors” who criticize the house owner can be expelled from the square. Only: A system in which you land on the index because you joke about the boss is only known from authoritarian regimes.

Mark Zuckerberg has to be measured by how openly he deals with criticism from users about himself and his company.

A critical public, in which the general conditions and rules of the game of what is publicly feasible and sayable are negotiated, need the medium of the public like the air to breathe. However, the more private corporations create publicity, the less public are the procedures in which the public’s rules of the game are discussed.

Behind the increasing intimacy of the digital public, which Facebook has brought about with changes to its newsfeed algorithm (“friends and family first”), there is undoubtedly calculation: Where only private matters are discussed, there is no critical public that seriously questions Facebook’s business practices. But CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is a lawyer for freedom of expression online, has to be measured by how openly he deals with criticism from users about himself and his company – and how far the promise for internal freedom of expression applies.