Facebook sees risks to innovation, freedom of expression ahead of EU rules

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Facebook warned of threats to innovation and freedom of expression on Monday, ahead of the release of a raft of rules by the European Union this week and in the coming months to rein in U.S. and Chinese tech companies.

Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg meets with European Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The social media giant laid out its concerns ahead of a meeting of Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg with EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager and EU industry chief Thierry Breton in Brussels on Monday.

Vestager and Breton are due to announce proposals on Wednesday aimed at exploiting the bloc’s trove of industrial data and challenging the dominance of Facebook, Google and Amazon.

They will also propose rules to govern the use of artificial intelligence especially in high risk sectors such as healthcare and transport. Other rules will be announced in the coming months.

Referring to the possibility that the EU may hold internet companies responsible for hate speech and other illegal speech published on their platforms, Facebook said this ignores the nature of the internet.

“Such liability would stifle innovation as well as individuals’ freedom of expression,” it said in its discussion document.

“Retrofitting the rules that regulate offline speech for the online world may be insufficient. Instead, new frameworks are needed.”

It suggested instead that authorities could require companies to set up a system for reporting content, publish enforcement data periodically and also define what is illegal content.

Such requirements should not be too onerous, Facebook said.

“A regulation requiring companies to ‘remove all hate speech within 24 hours of upload’ would create still more perverse incentives,” it said, suggesting that regulators balance safety with freedom of expression and privacy interests.

It urged regulators to understand the capabilities and limitations of technology in assessing content and allow internet companies the flexibility to innovate.

Zuckerberg’s visit came on the heels of visits by Alphabet Chief Executive Sundar Pichai and Microsoft President Brad Smith to Brussels last month.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by John Chalmers and Alison Williams

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