Facebook has come under recent fire in congress, and both sides of the line agree that social media regulations need to be increased. But even where parties agree on the problem, their solutions are all over the map: from fines to structural changes, to legislation, to breaking companies up. Reeling in Facebook may be a slippery slope. What are some of the issues that may crop up with attempting to regulate social media?
Following the events of the whistleblower, Frances Haugen, who filed complaints with federal law enforcement regarding the company’s amplification of harmful content, there has been a rare show of bipartisan support for social media regulation. Facebook’s own research shows that it chose to grow at the expense of public well-being. This evidence may make it easier for lawmakers to call on Facebook to reveal its algorithms while determining how to regulate the company. Any changes that it may be forced to make could impact billions of people who use Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp.
Consumers want big changes. A recent CNN poll shows that 76% of Americans think that Facebook makes society worse, 53% of Americans called for the federal government to increase regulation of Facebook. The people have spoken, they want change. In this new online age we have to establish a good structure for the future, and letting companies like Facebook run rampant sets ourselves up for disaster.
Democrats seem to have taken the position of breaking up Facebook, claiming that it takes up too much of the market and could become a monopoly. While this may solve the problem of Facebook itself, it would not solve the issue of unregulated social media as a whole. It would be like playing a game of whack-a-mole, hitting down one company just to have another pop up with the same issues. Republicans are opting for a more consumer-targeted approach, wanting customers to take matters into their own hands and sue the company, hoping the legal system will take care of any injustice.
I think there is a fault with both of these approaches. The former seems like a temporary solution, and the latter may take too long to be effective, if ever. Assuming something must be done, regulation seems to be the only way to stop Facebook. This poses an important question, how can we regulate social media without going overboard and infringing upon the rights of users or the rights of the company as a private entity? The first amendment is often cited in defense of placing regulations on social media. However, as we know, free speech in America is not completely free. There are numerous things you can get in legal trouble for saying, writing, or posting. Incitement of violence, slander, and threats are just a few examples. This is the reason you can’t yell ‘bomb’ in an airport or can be sued for spreading falsehoods. A great place to start is to go from something we already have precedent for. Facebook claims to flag or take down any posts that include incitement, threats, and falsehoods, but this has been proven to be untrue. As an internally regulated site, many of these Facebook posts slip through the cracks (whether by accident or on purpose). An outside entity needs to ensure that this can’t happen. Facebook has been accused of endorsing posts that have caused ethnic violence, political violence, cyberbullying, negative influences of body image among young girls, and even trafficking.
As a society we cannot stand by and let companies play games with our social lives, politics, and safety. They have all but admitted to meddling with the algorithm to promote content that gets more engagement, even if that is negative engagement. If congress doesn’t do something about this now, they are setting a dangerous precedent for the future.
Cover Photo: Corporate Compliance Insights