Facebook more pub than publishing, Leveson told

The director of public policy (EMEA) at Facebook told the Leveson Inquiry today that regulating what people say on the social network would be akin to regulating what people say in the pub.

Richard Allan said it was “important” to distinguish editorial published content from “chatter on the internet”, noting that websites of papers such as the Guardian provide content, while Facebook provides distribution.

Questioned about the website’s oft-debated approach to privacy, Allan said that the purpose of the social network, to which over 50 per cent of Britons over 13 subscribe, is to allow people to connect and “share information with others”. He defended the network’s anti-anonymity policy, arguing using one’s real name made for a more “meaningful” experience.

He told the Inquiry that users should be able to speak freely on the website as long as they obey rules. He noted that the site has clauses on hate speech, pornography and harassment, adding that the “strongest protection” came from its 800 million-strong community of “neighbourhood watch” users.

Earlier today, representatives from Google urged the Inquiry to ensure a distinction between the publisher of content online and the host platform.

“Google is not the internet, and it is also not the only entry point to the internet,” the web giant’s head of corporate communications in the UK, David-John Collins, told the Inquiry. “Whatever robust system you recommend will have to cover all entry points.”

He emphasised that there was a “very essential balance online”, while Daphne Keller, the corporation’s legal chief who appeared alongside Collins today, warned against the “over-breadth” of regulating the internet.

Keller and Collins spoke at length about Google’s policy for removing content. They told the Inquiry that it has removed hundreds of URLs from its search function relating to the News of the World Max Mosley splash, but stressed that that does not mean the content disappears from the web.

Last November Mosley told the Inquiry that search engines were “dangerous”, as they could “stop a story appearing, but don’t or won’t as a matter of principle”. The former motorsports chief revealed he is currently taking litigation action in 22 countries, suing Google in France and Germany, and considering bringing proceedings against Google in California in an attempt to remove certain search results.

Keller said that defamatory material will usually be taken down within days, but if such content is defamatory under UK law it may still be visible for users via google.com, so long as it does not violate US law.

She said it would be impractical for Google to search out potentially defamatory content itself, and said it is “much better” for users if a judgment has been made by a court or legal process that has weighed the evidence.

Also appearing this afternoon was Camilla Wright, co-editor of celebrity news website Popbitch.  “You can’t choose when you’re public and choose when you’re private,” Wright said of celebrities, adding that the website had apologised “five to six” times since it was founded.

The Inquiry will resume on Monday.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson