How to Make Facebook More Accountable

By Mark Penn | President, The Stagwell Group |

Facebook is in a pickle. Its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who is scheduled to testify before Congress this week regarding the privacy of users’ personal data, is on a mea culpa tour. In media interviews, he has said that he is even open to some regulation. Here, then, is one idea that could fix a lot of the emerging problems with Facebook and other internet mega-platforms as they find themselves in congressional cross hairs.

Many of Facebook’s current problems began when the company realized that people really do care about news, and not just sports, dating and entertainment. The company moved away from its origins as a way for users to connect toward becoming a media organization, carrying feeds that ranked and distributed news content. As social media distribution of news — real and fake — mushroomed, government authorities neglected to give these changes the same careful study they gave to TV and radio when those technologies were new. And yet Facebook and its properties, which include Instagram, now reach two-thirds of America for an average of 35 minutes a day — the broadcasting power and reach of hundreds of radio and TV stations.

Dating back to 1912, America has had legislation regulating media ownership. At first the primary concerns were about public safety, but they evolved into concerns about the diversity of media ownership and the character of media operators. As late as 2013, the Federal Communications Commission did not allow broadcast stations to have more than 25 percent foreign ownership. The airwaves were considered a public good, with restrictions on its use and operations considered appropriate.

Read his full op-ed at The New York Times.