Facebook grilled by UK lawmakers making online safety rules

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LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers grilled Facebook on Thursday over how it handles online safety as European countries move to rein in the power of social media companies.

Facebook's head of safety said the tech giant supports regulation and has no business interest in providing people with an “unsafe experience.”

Representatives from Google, Twitter and TikTok also answered questions from a parliamentary committee scrutinizing the British government’s draft legislation to crack down on harmful online content. It comes days after the companies testified before American lawmakers and provided little firm commitment for U.S. legislation bolstering protection of children from online harm, ranging from eating disorders, sexually explicit content and material promoting addictive drugs.

Governments on both sides of the Atlantic want tougher rules for protecting social media users, especially younger ones, but the United Kingdom's efforts are much further along. U.K. lawmakers are questioning researchers, journalists, tech executives and other experts for a report to the government on how to improve the final version of the online safety bill. The European Union also is working on digital rules.

Antigone Davis, Facebook’s head of global safety who addressed the British lawmakers via video conference, defended the company's handling of internal research on how its Instagram photo-sharing platform can harm teens, including encouraging eating disorders or even suicide.

“Where does the buck stop?” asked Damian Collins, the lawmaker who chairs the committee.

“It’s a company filled with experts, and we all are working together to make these decisions,” Davis said. She added that “we have no business interest, no business interest at all, in providing people with a negative or unsafe experience.”

Davis said Facebook is largely supportive of the U.K.'s safety legislation and is interested in regulation that gives publicly elected officials the ability to hold the company accountable.

She said she doesn’t agree with critics that Facebook is amplifying hate, largely blaming societal issues and arguing that the company uses artificial intelligence to remove content that is divisive or polarizing.

“Did you say that Facebook doesn’t amplify hate?” Collins asked.

“Correct,” Davis said, adding, “I cannot say that we’ve never recommended something that you might consider hate. What I can say is that we have AI that’s designed to identify hate speech.”

She declined to say how much dangerous content those AI systems are able to detect.