Facebook boss admits more can be done to protect children from social media harm

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaving The Merrion Hotel in Dublin after a meeting with politicians to discuss regulation of social media and harmful content. (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has admitted that there is a lot more the social network can do to regulate social media content that is harmful to children.

Mr Zuckerberg denied that his recent call for governments to take a more active role in regulating the internet was an effort by the company to absolve itself of responsibility.

The firm's founder and chief executive was in Dublin on Tuesday to visit the technology giant's offices.

Facebook's European headquarters is in Dublin.

"Either way we're going to have responsivity for making sure that we can police harmful content and gets it off our services," Mr Zuckerberg told RTE News.

"I think these days a lot of people don't want tech companies or any private companies to be making so many decisions about what speech is acceptable and what this harmful content that needs to be gets taken down.

"So I think there is a role for a broader public debate here and I think some of these things would benefit from a more democratic process and a more active government role."

The Facebook boss said he could not guarantee that the social media giant would be able to stop its platforms being used by malicious actors trying to influence the outcome of the European Elections.

"We've certainly made a lot of progress in building defences to protect the integrity of elections," he said.

"But no, I don't think anyone can guarantee in a world where you have nation states [that] are trying to interfere in elections there is no single thing that we can do, and say okay, we have now solved the issue.

"This is an ongoing arms race."

Mr Zuckerberg met with senior Irish politicians during his visit to the Republic and assured them that he would work with governments to establish new policies in a bid to regulate social media.

He discussed his plans to regulate the internet with Hildegarde Naughton, James Lawless and Eamon Ryan - three members of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and Fake News - at a hotel in Dublin.

Mr Zuckerberg told the politicians that issues around child protection and age verification are of "huge concern" to him.

He refused to answer questions from the media about online child safety as he left the Merrion Hotel.

Ms Naughton described the meeting as "positive and constructive".

"We went through a number of issues including child protection and the need for a robust age verification system," she said.

"He said it was an area of huge concern to him and that he is looking forward to working with law enforcement agencies and legislators in relation to that. We have to balance the state of privacy of users as well as safety.

"He stated he had a lot more work to do.

"Our committee is working on a number of pieces of legislation including an online safety commissioner as well as looking at and protecting democracy.

"I mentioned the importance around age verification because you have right now paedophiles online lying about their age and preying on young children and grooming them.

"This is something he acknowledged, he knew it was a problem and he stated that he wanted to work with law enforcement agencies and policy makers to make more robust laws."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaving The Merrion Hotel in Dublin after a meeting with politicians to discuss regulation of social media and harmful content. (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

The International Grand Committee on Disinformation and Fake News is made up of international parliamentarians and investigates issues like data privacy, safety, security and sharing.

The three TDs, who are also members of the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, have been vocal in demanding the regulation of social media platforms in recent years.

Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon has a number of inquiries ongoing into Facebook and associated organisations.

The TDs, who described Mr Zuckerberg as "quiet, unassuming, pleasant and smart", held an hour-long meeting with him days after he called for increased government oversight of the internet in areas like harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.

Mr Lawless said: "Our focus was also on electoral integrity and what has been happening around the world on the rules in managing election campaigns.

"He agreed legislation is needed, he is working on those internationally to be able to see who is running campaigns, who is paying for campaigns and who is being targeted.

"It shouldn't be about the private companies dictating what goes online when it comes to democracy and child protection and safety, we as legislators have responsibilities to put in place rules that we think should be followed and dictating to companies about how behaviours are conducted online."

Mr Ryan said: "I pressed him about the article he wrote on regulation and I made the point that it can't be self-regulation it has to be European regulation and that has to include funding journalism and having a courts procedure rather than a self-appointed board to look at difficult decisions."

PA

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