The Regulation of Social Media Debate

on March 28, 2019
Reading Time: 3 minutes

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you may have discovered that I have restricted my Facebook posts to pictures of Golden Retrievers, my favorite dog breed, and once in a while I even post some family and friend related G-rated content. My Twitter usage is used mostly for posting my columns and industry commentary.

Over the last five years, Facebook’s “almost anything goes” feature has gotten out of hand, and its lack of policing itself and keeping so much offensive material and fake news on its site is starting to slow its growth. Twitter is even worse. People post things here that run the gamut of blasphemy to outright fake news and will probably be the biggest site to post deep fakes eventually.

Both companies and many others that allow so much uncontrolled content get away with it because they are not traditional media sites. They have no regulation to restrict them. This is a problem that has major ramifications for democracy and even decency and more has to be done to reign in these sites from being propaganda tools for rogue governments and perpetrators of fake news.

Adam Lashinsky, in his Fortune Data Sheet newsletter posted on March 22, 2019, has a recommendation on how to deal with the Wild West of social media and offers his solution in this following exert-

“The solution to this is so simple, by the way: Repeal the legislation that’s responsible for it all. I’m talking about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. It created the fiction that because terrorist-criminals live stream murderous rampages on Facebook, the “social media” company isn’t responsible, accountable, or liable for the content it publishes. You won’t find such garbage on the sites of any of the news organizations I cited above (including Apple News) or on a broadcast network or cable channel. That’s because those news organizations curate what goes on them—and can be sued if what they publish harms someone.

Repeal this misguided legislation, and Facebook (and Google’s YouTube) absolutely will find a way to prevent their publishing platforms from being used for ill. Would it hurt their business models? Of course. What’s more important, entrepreneurial glory and wealth generation or protecting the integrity of democracy and keeping foul content from hurting people?”

I have been making this argument for over five years. Not holding Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and others accountable has become a great threat to democracy and has split countries apart. Traditional media has to come under regulated guidelines in order to stay in business. The kind of derogatory material you see posted on Facebook, Twitter, etc. could never be published in the New York Times, WSJ, and traditional media sites.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has outlived its usefulness. You can argue that we are in this place today because of this Act. It came about at a time when the Internet was young, and in that sense, it has helped it grow exponentially.
But it has been a two-edged sword in that it allowed social media sites to flourish without any controls and liability. As Adam suggests, it is time to repeal this act and make these sites admit what they are-Media sites.

Of course, the lobbyists from Facebook, YouTube, and other social media companies will fight this tooth and nail as they have in the past. But I sense this time is different. They have targets on their back and governments around the world are looking at ways to reign in things like fake news, hate speech, etc. And the way to do it makes the sites that distribute this material liable for what is written and spread on their websites, just like traditional media.