Facebook should face the same regulation as traditional media

The issues of fake news, cyber bullying and the spread of hate speech online are not regulated

Facebook should face the same regulation as traditional media

Pic by magicatwork (Flickr Creative Commons)

When considering the biggest changes to daily life today versus ten years ago, social media is most certainly one of them. Very often, big moments are shared with Facebook friends before family. 

With more than 1.9 billion users, it's safe to say there is nothing quite like Facebook. There is one element that still needs to be worked out - that is the issue of regulation. 

Facebook is an international company that has its European headquarters in Dublin. It avails of our workforce, our office space and tax system. It does not, however, adhere to the guidelines and regulations faced by our traditional media. 

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and the Press Council act as referees in terms of how our media behave. If something offensive, defamatory or inaccurate is reported, there are clear steps that can be taken to address it. Complaints are logged, responded to and a judgement is passed down. 

More than half of Irish consumers access their news through social media sites. Figures published by the BAI last June showed that 71% of Irish people used the site regularly, with 45% using it as a news source. 

The issues of fake news, cyber bullying and the spread of hate speech online are not regulated. While it is possible to sue someone for defamation online, there seems to be a gaping hole in terms of regulating what is said by whom on Facebook, in particular. 

We know, thanks to documents sourced by The Guardian, that Facebook has guidelines for its moderators in terms of what is allowed on the platform and what is not. Having read through these documents, however, it could and should be argued that more needs to be done on the company's part. Sources familiar with the workings of the company have raised concerns over consistencies with how moderators judge what is ok and what is not. 

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Press Ombudsman Peter Feeney said it's time Facebook stepped up to the plate.  

"You have to put considerable pressure on the Facebooks of this world to get their own house in order. They have gotten away for far too long, saying 'we're not responsible, we're just a host, we're not the publishers, we just host other people's opinions'. That doesn't wash anymore. They have to face up to it."

The tricky bit here starts with a simple question, referenced by Mr Feeney. Is Facebook a publisher or a platform, simply facilitating users looking to express an opinion?

Regardless of the answer to that question, it's time the social network faced stricter regulation, answering to more than just their own guidelines. 

"It is a huge task," says Mr Feeney. "I would say that through the European Union, an effort should be made to force the Facebooks of this world to face the same responsibilities as the broadcasters face."