Facebook may be considered 'public utility,' 'needs to be regulated' - journalist

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 13 2018 09:12 PM | Updated as of Feb 13 2018 09:16 PM

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MANILA - Facebook may have elevated its status from just a mere platform for conversations into a public utility, according to an Australian journalist who has examined the business model of the social media giant. 

Reporter Peter Greste said conversations about the responsibility of big social media companies have emerged recently as the issue of "fake news" and disinformation entered public discourse, stressing the need to pressure these tech giants to be transparent.

"It started to emerge in Davos... People pointed out Facebook in particular and Google have elevated beyond mere platforms," he told attendees of the second day of the "Democracy and Disinformation" forum Tuesday. 

Greste, who made a documentary on Facebook for an Australian investigative program, said the company's founder Mark Zuckerberg has expressed in a manifesto his ambition to make the platform the vehicle for political conversations.

"That to me says he wanted to elevate the status of Facebook to public utility. So if it's public utility we need to treat it as public utility, not as private business. It needs to be regulated in a way that it creates a level field that's transparent for all of us," he said.

In the documentary "Cracking the Code," Greste talked to digital experts about how Facebook, a social media site that has changed the dynamics of communication, has made profit out of a highly personal platform.

With more than 2 billion monthly users, Facebook is the world's largest social media network. It is also among the world's largest corporations, reporting $36 billion as its latest annual revenue. 

Zuckerberg recently announced the most recent update on Facebook, which has begun prioritizing what friends and family share in the News Feed, while reducing the amount of non-advertising content from publishers and brands.

Facebook has been criticized for algorithms that may have prioritized misinformation in people's feeds. But Zuckerberg said the goal in the recent update now is to help people "find relevant content" to encourage "meaningful social interactions."

Greste said it is now time to rethink the role of Facebook and other social media giants like Twitter in people's lives, how it affects the society and how these companies operate. -- with a report from David Ingram and Paul Sandle, Reuters