My new book, Facebook, the Media and Democracy, was published on 12 September.
I was interviewed a couple of weeks back by the Belgian newspaper De Standaard as to how Facebook might be regulated. You can find the article here. I tried out a couple of ideas I am thinking about for the book for Routledge that I am currently working on.
Alternatively, if you don’t speak Dutch (nor do I!), the translation is below:
After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the last few days there have been calls to regulate Facebook. But how do you do that?
Europe already has a lot of rules and regulations that restrict Facebook. And of course Facebook will also be subject to the GDPR, the new privacy legislation that will come into force at the end of May. Europe also wants internet companies to act more quickly against hate messages. And there is the controversial proposal to impose a special tax on the turnover of large internet companies.
“It’s patchwork,” says Leighton Andrews, a professor at Cardiff University and a senior manager at the BBC and minister in the Wales Regional Government. He is one of the academics who have made proposals in recent years for a real legal framework for the internet giants Facebook and Google. ‘This is a new kind of business, so we also have to regulate it in a new way.’
Medium or utility?
Many in the media sector see Facebook and Google as competitors, and would like to see that they are considered media companies. That would impose clearer obligations on them when passing on news reports. But Andrews and others think that you should compare Facebook with a public utility such as electricity, water, or telephone. “Because of the enormous scale and power of Facebook and Google, no one will ever build a new Facebook or a new Google,” says Andrews. ‘De facto they are a utility company. A piece of essential social infrastructure. And most countries regulate their essential infrastructure.’
Andrews calls Facebook a utility company of a new order: an information utility. This must be supervised by a specialized regulator. He compares the situation with the moment that the British telecom giant BT was privatized. In order to avoid BT becoming too powerful, it was stipulated, among other things, that it was not allowed to venture onto the TV market.
In the same way, Facebook could be forbidden to develop certain activities. Or could thresholds be defined – such as: how many percent of the advertising market can the company get?
According to Andrews, Facebook should also report on a regular basis to a special regulator, as the telecom in our country is regulated by the BIPT and the media in Flanders by the VRM.
Two American authors, David Gunton and Justin Hendrix, presented a somewhat less far-reaching model last week, with an emphasis on transparency. “We propose that Facebook should register as a social media platform and report publicly every quarter,” Gunton, a lecturer at the University of Georgia, summarizes via e-mail. ‘Among other things about their privacy practices. The public can then decide informed, and perhaps Facebook will behave better ‘. Gunton and Hendrix propose that the existing market regulator FTC exert control.
In the report that Facebook should submit, a signed statement from CEO Mark Zuckerberg should also state that his company complies with legal obligations. The social networks should also open up their computer systems to external researchers, so that they can check whether all rules are being respected. Gunton and Hendrix believe that the US also need its own privacy legislation ‘based on the European’.
The big internet companies have always maintained that they can keep themselves under control – self-regulation, no laws was the motto. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Zuckerberg suddenly said he was not against regulation. He knows from where the wind blows. ‘The question is rather what the right regulation is’, he added in a recent interview. He explicitly referred to the Honest Ads Act, the bill that states that Facebook must disclose who paid for a political advertisement. Now that Zuckerberg has been called on the floor at the American Congress, chances are that there will be far more far-reaching proposals.
But can we allow companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple to exist in their current form? The American professor Scott Galloway, author of the book The Four, thinks that because of their enormous power, they stifle the functioning of the free market, and that they have to be split up. According to Galloway, Facebook has to be divided into three companies: Instagram, Whatsapp and the social network Facebook. He has for the time being few supporters, but it is not out of the blue: telecom giant AT & T was once divided, and Microsoft barely escaped it in 1999.
The American antitrust think tank The Open Markets Institute goes one step further in an opinion piece in The Guardian: Facebook’s advertising department also has to become a separate company. And on top of that, the US must enforce strict privacy rules. Remarkable: The Open Markets Institute is also pushing the GDPR, the new European privacy legislation, forward as an example for the US.
I wrote an article for the Welsh language magazine Barn on some of the recent London-based media items on the Welsh Language. The article follows in both Welsh and English.
Taleithgarwch Dinesig a’r Iaith Gymraeg
Dros yr haf cafwyd erthyglau neu eitemau anwybodus yn y Guardian, The Times a Newsnight ynghylch yr iaith Gymraeg. Oherwydd y cyflymder ymateb a ganiateir gan gyfryngau cymdeithasol heddiw, gorfu iddynt oll amddifyn eu hunain rhag beirniadaeth sylweddol cefnogwyr yr iaith Gymraeg, boed rheini yn siarad yr iaith ai peidio. Dywedodd fy nghysylltiadau i yn y ddau bapur newydd yn ddioed y bu’r ddadansoddi golygyddol mewnol yr un mor hallt. O ganlyniad cyhoeddodd y ddau bapur yn fuan wedyn erthyglau ystyriol a oedd yn fwy cefnogol i’r iaith.
Roedd ymateb staff yn y BBC a gynddeiriogwyd gan Newsnight yn gyhoeddus a buan, er i ffynonellau swyddogol dewi tan ar ôl darlledu ymddiheuriad llugoer braidd Newsnight. Wedi hyn oll, cyfaddefodd y BBC y gallasai’r item fod wedi bod yn drafodaeth well pe bai siaradwr Cymraeg yn bresennol.
Mae’r traethiadau ysbeidiol hyn yn amlygu problem ehangach pan ddaw hi’n fater o drafod yr iaith Gymraeg a Chymru. Mae gan y Deyrnas Gyfunol un o’r sectorau papur newydd mwyaf canoledig yn Ewrop. Roedd gan y BBC, ysgrifennodd ei chyn-olygydd gwleidyddol Andrew Marr unwaith, duedd diwylliannol ddinesig ryddfrydol. Bu agwedd Newsnight tuag at rannau eraill o’r BBC, hyd yn oed oddi fun i’r uned newyddion a materion cyfoes yn Llundain, yn drahaus erioed. Bu i Marr a Martin Kettle y Guardian, bitïo methiant cyfryngau Llundain i drafod y Deyrnas Gyfunol a’i dadlennu hi iddi hi ei hun, gan fethu i helaethu dealltwriaeth pobl mewn gwahanol ardaloedd, dinasoedd, rhanbarthau ac o wahanol genhedloedd o lefydd a diwylliannau eraill. Galwodd Kenneth O. Morgan a Raymond Williams ill dau yn unigol yr agwedd hon yn ‘daleithgarwch dinesig’ (‘metropolitan provincialism’).
Ar ôl bron ugain maligned o ddatganoli, dylem allu disgwyl gwell, ond nid wyf yn disgwyl i hynny ddigwydd. Dyna pam y bu i’n Tasglu diweddar ar newyddion digidol ac anghenion gwybodaeth y Cynulliad godi’r posibilrwydd o blatfform newyddion digidol i’r Cynulliad.
Mae ystafelloedd newyddion Llundain yn darganfod y Gymraeg yn unig pan maent am wneud hwyl ar ben beth sydd iddyn nhw yn rhyfedd, neu yn egsotig neu yn wyrdroad o’r norm iaith Saesneg. Y storïau na chȃnt eu hadrodd yw’r rhai am amrywiaeth siaradwyr y Gymraeg; am lwyddiant addysg ddwyieithog; taw dwyieithogrwydd yw’r norm yn Ewrop a thu hwnt; a’r llwyddiant gwleidyddol a ddangosir trwy’r polisïau i feithrin y Gymraeg dros y 60 mlynedd diwethaf.
Ges i fy magu yn ddi-Gymraeg: er fod fy mamgu o Ddinas Cross yn Sir Benfro, a symudodd i’r Barri ar droad yr ugeinfed ganrif, yn medru’r iaith, ni throsglwyddodd yr iaith i fy nhad. Nawr gallaf gynnal sgyrsiau yn Gymraeg, wneud areithiau yn Gymraeg, gynnal cyfweliadau yn Gymraeg, ac yn bwysicaf oll gallaf siarad Cymraeg fel tadcu i’m wyres hynaf. Mae hanes y Gymraeg yn hanes llwyddiant Prydeinig a gresyn na all golygyddion Llundain weld hynny.
Metropolitan provincialism and the Welsh Language
This summer the Guardian, The Times and BBC Newsnight all ran ill-informed articles or items about the Welsh Language. With the speed of response allowed by social media today, each was immediately placed on the defensive by the concentrated criticism from supporters of the Welsh Language, whether they spoke Welsh or not. My own contacts at the two newspapers very swiftly told me that the internal editorial post-mortem was also fierce. Both publications subsequently published critical pieces more supportive of the language.
The reaction from BBC staff appalled by Newsnight was public and prompt, although official sources were silent until after Newsnight broadcast something of a half-hearted apology. Subsequently, the BBC has admitted that the item would have been better debated with the presence of a Welsh-speaker.
These spasmodic commentaries demonstrate a wider problem when it comes to UK coverage of the Welsh Language and Wales. The UK has one of the most centralized newspaper sectors in Europe. The BBC, its presenter and former political editor Andrew Marr once wrote, had an urban cultural liberal bias. Newsnight has always demonstrated an arrogance to other parts of the BBC, even within its London news and current affairs operation. Both Marr and the Guardian’s Martin Kettle have lamented the failure of London media to report the UK to itself, helping a widening understanding by people in different districts, towns, cities, regions and nations of other places and their cultures. Kenneth O. Morgan and Raymond Williams separately called this attitude ‘metropolitan provincialism’.
After almost 20 years of devolution, we should expect better, but I do not expect that to happen. That’s why our recent Task Force report on the Assembly’s digital news and information requirements raised the possibility of an Assembly digital content platform.
Newsrooms in London only discover Welsh when they want to poke fun at its perceived quaintness or exoticism or deviation from the English-speaking norm. The unreported stories are about the diversity of Welsh-speakers in Wales; the growth of Welsh-medium education; the fact that bilingualism is the norm in Europe and beyond; and the political success that Welsh language policy demonstrates over the last 60 years.
I grew up not speaking Welsh: though my grandmother from Dinas Cross in Pembrokeshire who moved to Barry sometime before the turn of the twentieth century had the language, it was never passed to my father. Now I can hold conversations in Welsh, makes speeches in Welsh, do interviews in Welsh, and more importantly speak Welsh as Tadcu to my elder grand-daughter. The story of Welsh is a British success story, and it’s a shame that London editors can’t see it.
Twenty years ago this September, the people of Wales voted in favour of having their own National Assembly. It’s the only political institution the people of Wales have ever voted to have. This week we have published our report on how the National Assembly can deepen its relationship with the people of Wales through digital communications and social media.
Our focus has been on the Welsh citizen – the potential user of the Assembly platform and services. Our starting point is that all Assembly communications should be designed with a citizen/user interest at their heart, with a presumption of Open Data, seeking to build long-term relationships with the citizens of Wales.
In our report we set out how the National Assembly can use modern digital communication and social media channels to identify what people are thinking and concerned about, to collect evidence, information and opinion, and to engage in real-time with people in local communities and communities of interest. The same media can then allow the Assembly to share with citizens directly how their elected representatives, individually and collectively, are seeking to respond to those issues.
Our proposals in some areas are radical. We want the Assembly, its Members and staff, to understand that they are content creators: the Assembly is a content platform which captures facts, information, data, commentary, opinion, and analysis, both written and audiovisual, that leads – or sometimes consciously doesn’t lead – to action. Properly organised, this is a profound, valuable and democratic digital space which reflects the nation’s conversations about the issues which are of most concern to it. It should be innovative, creative, and inspirational.
Our group contained people with a diverse range of relevant skills, including the media, education, digital content and social media developments, which has enabled us to make practical proposals for improving the Assembly’s operations.
Our recommendations are diverse. They include these suggestions:
- The Assembly should lead the way and establish an integrated content service using social media and other channels (such as dedicated email newsletters) to engage directly with the people of Wales.
- The Assembly should put people – rather than the institution and its processes – at the heart of topical news stories and aim for an emotional connection.
- The Assembly should create content that helps people understand the connections, differences and working relationships between the Assembly and other key organisations in Welsh public life to address the democratic information deficit.
- Senedd TV must be more user-friendly, with a simple tool allowing anyone to quickly find and clip footage which can be included in video packages or embedded on Member pages, external websites and social media platforms.
- Smart social media analytics should be adopted to identify online conversations and communities, and allow the Assembly to become involved in these discussions.
- The Assembly must exploit every alternative to the press release as a means of promoting its work. Maps, infographics, blogs and neat summaries all have the potential to articulate difficult messaging in a memorable way.
- A dedicated, easy to use National Assembly for Wales area should be established on the Hwb resource repository with resources for teaching that are mapped to the needs of the new curriculum currently being developed.
- The Assembly should establish strong contacts with Welsh Higher and Further Education Institutions to facilitate easier engagement with the Senedd and explore the potential of developing a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) about its work.
- Social media platforms best suited to engage with young people and learners should be adopted, in line with current trends. The Assembly should embrace the potential for digital engagement utilising other platforms such as Skype, Facetime, Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality.
- Further thought should be given to the visitor experience at the Senedd and the Pierhead, including the use of projection, video walls, Virtual and Augmented Reality on the estate, inside and outside the Senedd and Pierhead.
We also recommend that the 20th anniversary of the Assembly opening in 2019 is at the heart of a campaign to promote the stories of devolution, and recommend to the Llywydd that she consider organising A Festival of Welsh Democracy to coincide with that anniversary.
In voting for a National Assembly twenty years ago, the people of Wales created a new democratic institution operating, it is fair to say, in a fragmented public sphere. Though the National Assembly was born at the time of digital developments in our media, in practice we built a new Welsh public polity in the absence of a coherent Welsh public sphere. It was not our job as a group to consider the Welsh media and its structural challenges – committees of the Assembly have been looking at those themselves. Our task was to help the National Assembly establish how best to build a deep, genuine and continuous dialogue with the people of Wales. This is our report. Let the debates begin!