From the release of The Social Dilemma to a contentious Senate hearing last October, discussions regarding government regulation of social media have been amping up. It is clear that lawmakers had their sights set on the unregulated power of social media to influence public discourse and were beginning to assess how they would provide oversight.
The historic, horrific and heartbreaking events last week in Washington, DC, and, specifically, at the United States Capitol, will be an infamous day in the history of our country. It also may be the triggering event for regulation of social media.
President Trump’s personal account on Twitter, a private company, was permanently suspended. His personal access to Facebook, another private company, was temporarily suspended. In both instances, the platforms cited rules prohibiting content that incites violence.
I wrote about this push to regulate social media last October. As I shared then, I am as challenged at the thought of private, for-profit organizations self-regulating as I am at the notion of our central government thinking it is up to that task.
I also said this:
These companies make money when we spend time using them. The more they become a part of our way of life, the more we depend on them and trust them. And, that’s where it starts to become dangerous. If a president, senator or congressman crosses a line, we vote them out. If Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Google place their thumb on the scale, they could create controversy, more deeply engage users regardless of the issue and simply make more money selling advertising.
Many believe our president and others did cross a line. I certainly do. They incited insurrection, precious lives were lost, hallowed property was damaged and our democracy’s global reputation was stained.
While I believe President Trump’s suspension from Twitter is appropriate, I share a deep concern over a private company’s ability to regulate speech of the leader of the free world. This is a briar-filled thicket, for sure.
I am quite certain that soon after President Biden’s inauguration, after whatever occurs with serious efforts to remove, impeach (again) and convict President Trump, the immensely consequential issue of governmental regulation of social media will be front and center.
I’ll close this blog post as I did my prior one:
Government regulation of new industries always has and always will be controversial. Sadly, proponents of one side or the other typically position the debate in the most absolute terms … it’s all good or it’s all bad.
With regard to the regulation of social media channels, I have no doubt that we will arrive at a nuanced position, something in-between what people on both sides fear the most. Unfortunately, where that lies has yet to be determined.
What I do know is that this controversial issue will dominate public debate in the years to come, while the biggest impact may fall to the individual user — you and me. Let’s pay attention.
Stay tuned. This is a most consequential issue.