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An Internet Governance Puzzle

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During this session I made the point that policies that impact Civic Liberties shouldn’t be controlled by Social Media platforms and the answer from Guido Bülow (Facebook) was that Facebook agreed. Apparently Nick Clegg (Facebook & former Deputy Prime Minister (UK)) has tabled the idea to hand regulatory aspects of the business over to a third party (@Guido, please correct me if I have misrepresented what you said here).

It was said multiple times in the meeting that Facebook did not want to interfere with civic discourse.

This was quite refreshing to hear, but here is our current model:

Regulators → control → Platforms → control → Users

This _requires_ platforms to impose the will of regulators.

Let’s consider Social Media Platforms and Public Content. Imagine extracting content moderation so that it is two non-communicating entities: “Moderation” and “Platform”. A User joins a Moderator and then uses Platforms.

Regulators → Moderator → User → Platform

This simple change has achieved a lot;

  1. Users can access multiple Platforms under the same Moderator
  2. Content Moderation being an available resource on the web, lowers competitive barriers-to-entry
  3. Moderation can be brought under the Civil Liberties umbrella
  4. Platforms can pool resources for Public Content Moderation making it more effective
  5. We can stop talking about “which platform is more of a problem” and instead focus on what is fair.

Another point that Guido made was that Facebook wanted to keep their platform’s terms globally consistent. This is terrible for our progress. Facebook is the only effective “friends network” and because of the network effect, it will stay that way. We have a whole generation growing up with an homogenous moral mental model (which incidentally includes “lying is just fine”). There is strength in diversity and we’re diluting it.

Impressively, Facebook moderate content in over fifty languages. So they’ve just got another 7,067 languages to go and the requirement will be met.

There’s another problem too: regulators exist in every country. During the 2019 IGF a minister of a country aired a grievance that he could not get Facebook to so much as respond to him. More difficult to forget is the now famous photograph of Mark Zuckerburg’s empty seat at a UK hearing for Facebook to answer questions over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The contempt this one company has shown for sovereign nations, shouldn’t be possible.

To steal Liz Corbin’s sentiment from this session: if we haven’t got to the point of taking action, we never will.

To fulfil Nick Clegg’s desire to offload the regulatory aspects of Facebook’s business, we need a network of regulators; who interact with a network of independent moderators; who offer diverse policies that balance interpretations of free-speech vs. hate speech; based on regional laws; that are underpinned by international laws.

There are many academics at this forum. From a non-technical point of view; what am I missing?

Multistakeholderism is the right way to govern the web; but we need to move it _onto_ the web.