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The Internet Needs Updated Rules for a New Era

The Internet Needs Updated Rules for a New Era

By Victoria Jeffries, Public Policy Director, Facebook, Inc.

Twenty-five years ago, “mobile” phones weighed three pounds, most people used dial-up modems to connect with each other online, and the term “app” was shorthand for appetizers. The internet was used mostly by academics, scientists, and the military and was just starting to become accessible by businesses and everyday consumers. Just about anyone who could access the internet in those days had to buy access from the biggest players such as CompuServe, Prodigy, and America Online. Believe it or not, that was also the last time that Congress passed significant legislation to govern the internet. We believe it is time for updated regulations that address the realities of the internet today.

A lot has changed since those early days. The technology industry has become a quintessential example of American ingenuity. It has created millions of jobs and become the single most powerful engine of growth for many businesses, especially small businesses. It has empowered billions of people with the ability to freely express themselves and it has made America the global innovation leader. When Congress first set rules of the road for the internet, those light-touch regulations reflected American values of free enterprise, free expression, and a free press. Moreover, this year has made it clear that when it comes to surviving a global pandemic, American internet technology is a lifeline, whether people are ordering groceries online, video chatting with teachers or doctors, or just staying connected with friends and family during a period of isolation.

Facebook has been fortunate to be part of this success story. We compete in a dynamic and disruptive industry that is constantly innovating. New startups launch all the time giving consumers more choices to make people’s lives easier and better. For every service we offer, you can find several others with millions, and in some cases, billions, of consumers who enjoy using them.

Every new technology brings new challenges. The internet has been no exception. At Facebook, we’ve written rules, invested billions of dollars, hired more than 35,000 people, and built new technologies to address misuse of our platform including hate speech, data security, election interference, and other online harms. We don’t always get it right and we are constantly pushing ourselves - and working with others - to do better when we fall short. We also publish quarterly reports that provide transparency in the form of detailed metrics about how we enforce our policies so people can hold us accountable for our enforcement actions.

Today’s regulations aren’t equipped to guide the continued growth and development of the internet while protecting people from potential harms. While Facebook has a role to play in addressing these challenges, we cannot do it alone. We also need Congress to play a role. We have called for updated legislation to protect our elections, federal privacy regulations that protect how people’s information is used, and clear rules that allow people to move their data from one service to another, and then clarifying who is responsible for protecting it when it moves. We’ve also called for industry standards for addressing harmful content.

In a quest to find solutions, changing the U.S. antitrust laws is not the right approach. American enforcers have stated time and again that they have the right tools to ensure a healthy and dynamic marketplace. Facebook faces abundant competition at home and abroad. Meanwhile, as China is racing to build a global internet based on a very different set of values, America’s tech companies must be able to compete here and around the world to preserve a free and open internet. The U.S. is in a global competition with China for how the internet will be regulated and governed. We must continue leading to prevent the growth of digital authoritarianism.

We need regulations that preserve creators’ and innovators’ freedom to operate across platforms, while promoting competition, consumer choice and safety. Thoughtful updated regulation can foster what is best about the internet while protecting people from its potential harms. Updated regulations are not in conflict with maintaining the strength of American innovation. Modernizing the rules of the internet doesn’t mean losing sight of values like free expression and robust innovation that were guiding principles in decades past.

Change can happen faster than you expect. Once powerful players like CompuServe and Prodigy are relics of the past thanks to the dynamism and competitiveness that have always been the hallmark of technology. Of the 10 most valuable companies a decade ago, only three still make that list today. A decade ago, most of the top technology companies were American. Today almost half are Chinese.

We find ourselves at a similar crossroads to the one we faced at the internet’s dawn. The policy decisions we make today will determine the kind of innovation we want for the next 25 years. It’s time for the U.S. to once again set the pace on technology with a legal framework that encourages innovation for the global internet without jeopardizing our American values.