Social media is deeply embedded in our daily lives, and that’s not going to change. But with the dangers that have come to light, it’s time for lawmakers to enact some control and regulation over tech giants, especially Facebook.
Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen’s testimony before the Senate was shocking. She accused Facebook’s employees of knowingly utilizing algorithms to emphasize divisive content, leading users to focus on negativity in order to drive profits through increased clicks and views.
We’ve witnessed how that polarization can lead to real consequences. The Jan. 6 insurrection was largely driven by inaccurate claims spread through social media. Though it was obvious that former President Donald Trump was using social media to spread the big lie, Facebook and Twitter waited until after misled criminals had stormed the Capitol before suspending and eventually banning him from their platforms.
We can’t wait for profit-centered companies to act when national security is at stake.
Social media is the most popular tool for mass communication, and thus, it needs to be reined in and tech companies should be held to account. Such regulation would be no different than what’s occurred in legacy media. If a newspaper knowingly publishes false information, its ownership can be sued. The regulations are even stiffer for radio and television, as federal rules prohibit language deemed inappropriate while mandating fair time for those seeking public office.
Instilling such regulations for social media would be fair. While a Facebook executive may argue that a company shouldn’t be responsible for what a user posts, tech giants certainly have the means to monitor such activity. Facebook has proved this during the pandemic by flagging posts about COVID-19 and vaccinations.
There’s also the issue of blatant targeting of people’s fears, frustrations and weaknesses in order to make more money. If it’s proven that tech companies are purposefully putting a premium on content that enrages us, especially if the information is false or misleading, they should be fined. If the problems aren’t addressed, the guilty companies should be shut down.
It’s a tough issue. We believe in freedom of speech, but we don’t believe in freedom from consequences. If someone wants to spread lies and misinformation, they have the right to do so. But a company shouldn’t be allowed to profit by giving a platform for dishonesty and hate.
And frankly, our democracy is at stake.
If lawmakers continue to allow hateful rhetoric and obvious lies to spread like wildfire on social media, we’ll see more violence and more tragedies like that which occurred on Jan. 6.
We are responsible for our words, but for-profit companies should be accountable for what’s published on their platforms. It’s time for Congress to act and regulate tech giants such as Facebook.