The Current

Facebook's head of public policy says he'd welcome regulation, but warns it's easier said than done

Kevin Chan, head of public policy for Facebook Canada, speaks to Anna Maria Tremonti about his company's record on privacy and the fight against fake news amid growing criticism, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg ignoring a summons to appear before the Canadian government.

Kevin Chan says social media giant will have external oversight board by end of 2019

The House of Commons privacy and ethics committee is hosting an international panel this week to discuss what should and can be done to protect citizens' privacy online and curb the spread of disinformation ahead of the fall election. (Canadian Press)
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A leading figure at Facebook Canada says the company would welcome stronger regulation over how the social media giant operates, but warns it's not an easy problem to solve.

"If parliaments around the world wish to draw clearer baseline standards about what should stay up and what should come down on the platform — what's permissible speech online — we could welcome that," said Kevin Chan, head of public policy for Facebook Canada.

"But I can assure you that they'll be seized with the equally challenging issues that we are," he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Chan appeared before the House of Commons privacy and ethics committee Tuesday. Canadian MPs on the committee were joined by foreign politicians — including representatives from the U.K., Ireland and Germany — to discuss what should and can be done to protect citizens' privacy online and curb the spread of disinformation ahead of this fall's federal election.

On Monday, Chan told CBC News that Facebook will take down accounts that try to interfere with the upcoming federal election, and make those attempts public.

He told Tremonti that the social media giant has also made a commitment to build an external oversight board by the end of 2019.

"This independent oversight board will be the final board of appeal … and they will be charged with governing speech on Facebook," he said.

Over time, we're going to try to get to a better place, where Facebook isn't making all these decisions about what stays on the platform.- Kevin Chan

"Our view at this point … is that the decisions made by this board would be public and they would be binding on Facebook."

Chan said that "these are ways in which we think, over time, we're going to try to get to a better place, where Facebook isn't making all these decisions about what stays on the platform."

Kevin Chan appeared before the House of Commons privacy and ethics committee Tuesday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Althia Raj, however, argued that the company is trying to distance itself from admitting liability for what happens on its platform.

"Listening to Kevin talk about: 'Oh, we're going to have an arm's-length panel' — well, that's just a way for Facebook to create space between the company and that panel, and not accept accountability and liability," said Raj, HuffPost Canada's Ottawa bureau chief.

She told Tremonti that Facebook needs to be forced into action, because right now it is "not, understandably, interested in acting."

Part of the issue is that "the penalties ... are incredibly weak," she said.

"When you think about the fines — $100,000 — when the company makes more than $55 billion in revenues every year, it's peanuts, I mean it's less than peanuts."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation. 


Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC News. Produced by Julie Crysler and John Chipman.

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