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Facebook exec to policymakers: Regulate tech firms before China does

A man holds a microphone
Facebook executive Nick Clegg. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

A top Facebook executive on Monday urged Europe and America to move towards regulating major internet companies — saying that if they don’t, the Chinese government will.

Why it matters: Policy and communications chief Nick Clegg’s comments delivered in Berlin are part of the social giant’s push to influence new regulations in areas like hateful content and data privacy.

  • In doing so, Facebook is putting some of the burden to address its problems on governments around the world as pressure mounts on the company to come up with its own solutions.

What he’s saying: According to Clegg’s prepared remarks, he will call this a “critical moment."

“As the tech lash dominates debate in the west, others are writing the new rules of the internet themselves. If we in Europe and America don’t turn off the white noise and begin to work together, we will sleepwalk into a new era where the internet is no longer a universal space but a series of silos where different countries set their own rules and authoritarian regimes soak up their citizens’ data while restricting their freedom.”

Between the lines: Clegg is using the specter of China’s internet censorship to put pressure on European and American regulators.

  • “The fact is there is no longer a single, unitary internet, but rather two ‘internets’, China and the rest of the world,” he said.

Clegg also said that Facebook “has not always thought deeply enough about how its services could be used – or indeed abused – by authoritarian regimes,” specifically referencing how the social network contributed to genocide in Myanmar.

  • “We didn’t foresee that, in countries like Myanmar, the tinder box of religious and ethnic tensions in these countries could catch alight on our platforms if we didn’t have adequate safety systems in place,” he said.

The bottom line: Facebook has aggressively made the case for regulation for months now — but global policymakers may not see the company has acting entirely in good faith when it stands to benefit from legislation it helps to craft.