The Regulation of Social Media Seems Inevitable, But Would Government Oversight Really Solve The Pitfalls of Social Media Influence And Fake News?

The distribution of media and information has no doubt played a vital role in America’s past and present, and will most certainly continue to do so in our future as well both domestically, and on the world stage. In just my lifetime alone, the internet has completely revolutionized the way in which humanity functions from menial tasks like ordering groceries and every day household items, all the way to the ways in which we work, play, communicate with each other, and distribute and receive news and information.

In a more specific sense, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have enabled anyone in the world with an internet connection to have a voice in the public square, while new media platforms/formats such as blogging and podcasting have also allowed the common man to become a publisher and distributor of information, and even monetize their content if they so choose. While there are many positive aspects to independent content creators being able to publish and distribute information freely online, there are also legitimate fears about the way in which intentional misinformation could be used to manipulate and destabilize everything from our political and economic systems, and even individuals and society as a whole. Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs even expressed concern about the importance of editorial boards and the need for a “strong and independent press” during his 2010 All Things Digital interview panel about the iPad. (shown below)

Steve Jobs on the importance of editorial boards and paying for quality journalism.

One could argue that Jobs predicted the rise of internet based disinformation or “fake news” as it’s more commonly referred to. As we’ve seen over the past few years, fake news has become an increasing concern political leaders both in The Republican and Democrat parties alike, particularly when it comes to national security.

In February, The Washington Post reported that The U.S. Cyber Command successfully thwarted attempts by a Russian entity to interfere in the 2018 mid-term election, and that during the operation several social media accounts impersonating US Citizens were uncovered as described in the following excerpt:

“The Internet Research Agency as early as 2014 and continuing through the 2016 presidential election sought to undermine the U.S. political system, according to the Justice Department. Posing as Americans and operating social media pages and groups, Russian trolls sought to exacerbate tensions over issues such as race, sexual identity and guns”.

The Washington Post

The realization of intentional foreign subversion via social media coupled with The Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018 in which the Facebook data of over 50 million users was collected by a research firm hired by The Trump Presidential Campaign, was enough to warrant a hearing by Congress into the ethics and security of social media companies, along with the potential need for government regulation in the future. The Congressional hearings also covered concerns by Conservative political publishers who claim that Facebook and Twitter both intentionally censor and de-rank conservative pages and profiles as discussed in this excerpt from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional Hearing:

Sen.Ted Cruz questions Mark Zuckerberg on bias/censorship. Source: YouTube/CBS News.

Is Regulation Inevitable?

The debate over whether or not regulation of social media companies by The US government is largely opinion based, as there is no actual data for whether or not regulation would actually help fix this problem. Tim Pool is a former journalist for Vice News who now runs his own news and commentary channel on YouTube which has over 300K+ subscribers. Starting at the 9:05 mark of the video below, Pool argues that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter need to be regulated since their policies are influenced by their political slant towards the left. He cites the example of religious conservatives disagreeing with the definition of gender identity and then being banned for “hate speech” as defined by Twitter’s rules.

Tim Pool argues for social media regulation

On the flipside of Pool’s argument, Libertarian publication Reason argues in a recent video that government regulation wouldn’t actually solve the foreign influence problem effectively, and would also encroach on The 1st Amendment and Free Speech.

Reason TV

I personally believe that educating people to look at both sides of an issue, read from multiple news sources, and be careful online in general, is the best way to combat fake news and bias more than any regulation. I don’t believe that censoring either side on a platform is good either, but until a plausible solution is presented, I am reluctant to condone any sort of government action.

Cover image credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/OwvRB-M3GwE

Advertisements