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‘Brick wall’: Deadlocked efforts to regulate Facebook

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Lawmakers have so far been slow and ineffective in their efforts to regulate social media behemoth Facebook./AFP
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Oct 06, 2021 - 12:12 PM

SAN FRANCISCO — US senators on Tuesday again promised to curb Facebook’s power, driven this time by damning whistleblower revelations underpinned by the company’s own research.

Efforts to better regulate the tech behemoth’s platforms, which see billions of users, have so far been slow and ineffective.

Here is where efforts stand to regulate Facebook:

Little progress in Congress 

Reducing Facebook’s economic power and overseeing its moderation policy are the two main issues for US elected officials keen on technology regulation.

US lawmakers in June advanced blockbuster legislation that opens the way for potential dismantling of Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.

The proposed legislation would prohibit the largest groups from acquiring competitors.

But no date has yet been set for a vote, and compatibility with current competition law is not guaranteed.

“Without core law changes, we believe this antitrust momentum hits a brick wall,” said independent analyst Dan Ives.

In addition, elected officials are divided, especially on issues of free speech on the networks.

Many want to reform “Section 230,” a 1996 law that protects internet hosts from lawsuits related to content posted by third parties, a cornerstone of social networking.

Common ground seems almost impossible to find between Democrats who favor stricter rules against misinformation and Republicans who cite worries over censorship.

Republican-controlled states like Florida and Texas are trying to pass laws to prevent networks from suspending political content or candidates.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly declared himself in favor of amending Section 230.

Authorities, however, have notched a success in pressuring the platform to pause its efforts to develop a version of photo-sharing app Instagram for kids under the age of 13.

Antitrust lawsuit muddle 

US regulators at the Federal Trade Commission as well as an alliance of states have filed lawsuits accusing Facebook of being a social network monopoly that needs to be smashed.

The suits argued that the tech titan not only dominates online social networking, it “buys or buries” startups it sees as rising threats.

“For almost a decade, Facebook has had monopoly power in the personal social networking market in the United States,” contended a suit filed late last year by attorneys general from US states.

“Facebook illegally maintains that monopoly power by deploying a buy-or-bury strategy that thwarts competition.”

Those suits failed out of the starting gate, however, when a federal judge decided they lacked facts and didn’t make clear exactly what market they contend Facebook is unfairly dominating.

Facebook on Monday urged a federal judge to toss out an amended version of the FTC lawsuit, arguing that it is weak and that the regulator behind it has “an axe to grind.”

FTC chair Lina Khan cast the deciding vote in a decision to amend the case and try a second time, and she should have recused herself due to bias against the company, Facebook said in the filing.

European probes launched 

The European Commission in June opened a formal antitrust investigation to assess whether Facebook abused its power when it came to advertising data gathered from advertisers and its classified ads service.

“Facebook collects vast troves of data on the activities of users of its social network and beyond,” commission executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager said in a release at the time.

“We will look in detail at whether this data gives Facebook an undue competitive advantage.”

Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority at the same time announced a probe into whether Facebook has an unfair advantage in services for online classified ads and online dating, through how it gathers and uses certain data.

“We will be working closely with the European Commission as we each investigate these issues, as well as continuing our coordination with other agencies to tackle these global issues,” CMA chief Andrea Coscelli said in a release.

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