After several congressional hearings there seems to be increasing bipartisan support for federal action to regulate social media platforms, steps that tech leaders seem to expect and accept. On September 5th, executives including Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, and a Google senior executive are scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee about election interference and alleged bias.
The U.S. has no effective regulatory framework for social media platforms and so far, lacked the political will to create one. However, that may be changing, with increasing pressure from the White House and Congress for regulatory intervention. There have never been more proposals on regulating social media platforms circulating around Washington than there are right now.
There is no question that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election. In a September 6, 2017 blog post, Facebook announced that more than 3,000 advertisements posted on the social network between June 2015 and May 2017 were linked to Russia. The Washington Post reported the ads came from a Russian company called the Internet Research Agency. On October 3, 2017, CNN reported that a number of the Russia-linked Facebook ads were geographically targeted to reach residents of Michigan and Wisconsin. Trump defeated Clinton by a narrow margin in both battleground states.
Censorship is another area of concern that suggests possible government intervention. In early August, Apple, Google and Facebook removed many, but not all videos, podcasts and posts from the right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars site. But Twitter left Mr. Jones’s posts intact and has been more permissive of controversial content than its social media peers. This revealed how unevenly tech companies enforce their rules on hate speech and offensive content.
Earlier this year, members of Congress questioned Google and other tech companies over allegations their platforms favored liberal voices over conservative ones. President Trump has recently tweeted accusations that Google search results for the words “Trump news” returned results primarily from what he called “Left-Wing media.” He said that Google and others “are suppressing voices of conservatives and hiding information and news that is good.”
A Google spokeswoman responded that its research results aren’t biased towards a particular politics ideology. “We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate public sentiment,” she said in a statement.
- A new poll from The Media Research Center shows nearly one third of conservatives have left or considering leaving Facebook over perceived censorship and bias.
- The administration has few options for directly regulating how internet companies present research results and other content without violating the First Amendment.
- Some believe we should address social media platforms as a threat to public health and treat them as we did tobacco and alcohol, by combining education and regulation.
Quests and Actions (Q&A):
- Can the government reasonably regulate social media platforms? If so, how? If not, what do the social media companies need to do differently (if anything)?
- What social responsibilities do social media companies need to embrace? Is it different from newspapers, TV news, or radio news?
- If social media regulation happens, will It be shaped by people who can spend the most on lobbyists? Amazon, Google and Facebook for example.