Former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt speaking at an event promoting gender equality on Sept. 28, 2018 in New York City.
Leigh Vogel | Getty Images for Procter & Gamble
Heavy-handed regulation is not the answer to the social media industry’s problems, a member of Facebook’s incoming Oversight Board said Friday.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt, one of four co-chairs of the independent body set up by Facebook to review its content moderation, warned that an aggressive regulatory approach could infringe freedom of speech.
“If regulation gets too heavy, it actually will impact freedom of speech very heavily,” she told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” Friday. “I believe in regulation, I believe that politics has to play a role.”
She added: “I also think we have to be a little bit careful than just demanding regulation, because at some point it will just tip over and be a regulation on our freedom of speech, and I don’t think any of us want that.”
She used the example of an internet shutdown that occurred last month in Belarus following the country’s election results, in which longstanding President Alexander Lukashenko declared a landslide victory. The situation drew international condemnation, with the EU threatening sanctions on Belarusian officials for violence, repression and election fraud.
Before joining the Oversight Board, Thorning-Schmidt was the prime minister of Denmark, and was the first woman to hold the post. She was named as one of the initial members of the group in May.
First announced by Facebook back in November 2018, the board will have the power to overrule even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on whether to delete controversial posts. It will govern appeals from Facebook and Instagram users, and questions from Facebook itself.
However, the board is not yet operational, and in July said that it wouldn’t be until late Fall. Other members of the board include Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief of The Guardian newspaper, and Andras Sajo, a former judge and VP of the European Court of Human Rights.
The board’s establishment couldn’t be more timely. Facebook has faced intense backlash from civil rights groups and advertisers this year over its handling of hateful content and disinformation on the platform. On Thursday, the company announced it would ban new political ads a week before the 2020 U.S. election.
“I do think it’s obvious to most people that we can’t carry on in a world where it’s basically Facebook and ultimately Mark Zuckerberg who takes decisions on what content gets removed or stays up,” said Thorning-Schmidt.
“It might not be ideal and it might be a small step, but it is a step in the right direction to finally have an independent board, an oversight board, that can take these decisions.”
For its part, Facebook has supported the establishment of such an independent body and even welcomed the prospect of more internet regulation. At the same time, the company has railed against new regulation in Australia that would force it to pay news publishers for content, threatening to block news in the country. Google has also criticized the proposals.