Facebook – its new corporate name is Meta – has always wanted to get to know you. Its public goal has apparently been to connect people. It has been wildly successful in doing this by simply building out everyday infrastructure around the world.
There are 3.5 billion people using Facebook’s products around the world, including Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. As an infrastructure provider, Facebook knows a lot about who its users are and what they do.
Recently, the company has announced a US$10 billion investment in “Metaverse” – an immersive version of the Internet that can only increase Facebook’s grip on citizens through the data it collects about us.
The announcement comes at a time when everyone wants to do something about Facebook. Recent reporting on corporate ethics, document dumps from whistle-blower Frances Haugen and testimony in the United States Senate, as well as the six-hour blackout of its services worldwide in October, as well as the scale of Facebook’s access and the consequences of allowing Displays both. The status quo remains.
But before we fix anything, we should consider the logic behind determining what needs to be fixed.
a human rights focus
To effectively regulate a data-intensive, privately held global infrastructure like Facebook, we need to prioritize human rights concerns. Upholding human rights can serve as the underlying rationale for any regulatory framework, and in doing so, give it an established, universal moral significance.
A focus on human rights means prioritizing the core values embodied in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: protecting human dignity, ensuring autonomy and equality, and “fraternity” (or, in 2020 language, community). It means understanding that these rights are indivisible and interdependent.
The benefits and harms of social media affect human beings – the subjects for which human rights are intended. Facebook and other companies like it have changed our lives by becoming a global infrastructure, influencing how, when and how we connect with others. Through this process, our life has become “dataified”.
We need to think more objectively about how to embed human rights in our digital policies as we increasingly live and seek meaning in online environments and contexts. As the United Nations Guiding Principles on Trade and Human Rights affirm, states have a duty to protect human rights. However, businesses also have a responsibility to respect human rights.
a global communications giant
Calls for reform, including Haugen’s explosive Senate testimony, have been centered around content on the social network Facebook and is best known for. But Facebook is much more than that.
The blackout showed that Facebook is an essential part of the global communications infrastructure. The corporation was formerly known as Facebook, and its assets include Instagram and WhatsApp, which facilitate small business and informal economies around the world. It provides login credentials to thousands of other apps.
Some developing countries in Africa also rely on Facebook as a portal to the Internet for a significant portion of their population.
And in the near future, Meta intends to bring another billion people online through various Internet infrastructure projects.
So how do we regulate a tech giant like Facebook to uphold human rights? Many cases of regulation have focused on the right to freedom of expression, as most of us experience it consciously. However, the focus on content moderation is a game to lose at best.
Human rights related to freedom of expression
I have written previously about how Facebook has stepped into the void of making decisions on freedom of expression on its network through the Facebook Oversight Board.
Read more: Facebook is stepping up where governments aren’t on freedom of expression
But freedom of expression is not independent of other rights. The Oversight Board’s own docket shows that decisions on freedom of expression do not happen in a vacuum. Other rights – such as the right to non-discrimination, the right to protection of the individual and the right to life – need to be considered.
Various proposals are already in place to regulate Facebook and social media, advocating for transparency and accountability, changes to US regulations that currently give social media platforms immunity and to tackle the dilemma of content moderation. poisoning tax”.
The Canadian government now has a chance to fix the problematic law, which previously proposed curbing social media content, which has the potential to destroy other human rights in the process.
Read more: Planned social media rules set a dangerous precedent
Meanwhile, the US Federal Trade Commission and several states are pursuing a strategy of breach of trust, an approach that is currently stalled in the courts.
Part of the problem is that people around the world continue to search for ethical frameworks to manage the relationship between technology and society at a time when we already have a successful model available: international human rights. It is one of the few global, ethical frameworks in existence that has gained tremendous acceptance.
The other part of the problem is that we have mostly assumed that rights must apply online in the analog world. This means that regional states are places of relevance and enforcement. But Facebook’s infrastructure is global — it’s not a state one. UN Special Rapporters are pointing out how analog and digital don’t always align in terms of privacy and expressiveness, but this is just the beginning.
Everything that happens in the online world has a global impact, as we have seen with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. It is clear that incentives are important to protect human rights, no matter who is potentially violating them. But when it comes to our digital space, how to protect human rights in the name of autonomy, dignity, equality and community is not being considered at the moment.
We must acknowledge the global and everyday reach of Facebook’s infrastructure. We need to understand how Facebook and other tech companies like it are shaping our experiences in ways that are both visible and invisible.
Understanding Facebook as a public infrastructure simply means acknowledging that it provides us with something essential: services that enable other services and activities, services that we cannot find anywhere else.
Some have suggested that we treat Facebook as a hostile country in order to properly control it. It seems unnecessary. Facebook is an example of a new type of global infrastructure that needs to protect and respect human rights.