Civil Discourse Op-Ed: Social Media Regulation

Photo by Magnus Mueller.

It’s no surprise that our Civil Discourse Program, led by Communications Professor Mark Urista, is taking on another relevant topic. With social media use continuously on the rise, one can only expect some form of regulation to occur. The question is, should it be the Federal Governments job to do the regulating?

 The Federal Government Should Regulate Social Media

Social media is a significant part of our lives. We use it to share our thoughts, opinions and experiences with other people. Social media has become a tool for mass communication in workplace and academic environments. 

For example, many people are required to use a social media platform like Facebook or Discord to exchange information about their clubs, sports teams, classes, and workplace projects. Social media also provides a forum to communicate with others about politics and current events. 

Because it is so widely used and has become so necessary that it could be seen as a public utility, social media should be regulated by the government to protect our constitutional rights. While social media platforms claim to regulate content, there are many users that question the companies biases and ability to regulate these platforms effectively and fairly. 

Having the federal government regulate social media will allow the platforms to be held constitutionally liable. This means that the First Amendment would be applied in practice. The agency tasked with regulating social media would be compelled to respect the concept of free speech. 

With this policy, social media could become an open discussion platform where people can share their personal viewpoints. The platform would not be able to censor viewpoints it disagrees with.  Currently, social media companies operate as a private platform without any First Amendment regulation. Federally run, the platform will be held accountable to The US Constitution and any company that violates our civil liberties can be prosecuted. 

Social media has a huge impact on political bias and perception. Social media has changed how information is consumed and spread, how political views are formulated, and how the public learns about politics. With how much influence social media has on the public’s perception of politics, is it best to regulate these platforms in the hands of a company that may have an agenda it’s trying to push? 

Platforms like Facebook regularly censor content. The power is in Mark Zuckerberg’s hands; What he decides to allow or censor on the platform can affect millions of people’s perceptions. To some, Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter seems like great news, as he claims he wants an uncensored platform that favors freedom of speech. However, is it an individual’s responsibility to promote a constitutional right amongst the world’s largest social media platforms? Government regulation would be the simplest and most efficient way to keep social media rules consistent with the Constitution.

Social media platforms should be regulated by the government to allow for freedom of expression. In the United States, this is a constitutional right that should be upheld in all aspects of life, including social media. Social media has become a necessary means of communication and a public forum for more serious topics of conversation like politics or current events. This marketplace of ideas must be protected.

Authors: Eagle Hunt, Eliana Ortega, Jacob Pacheco and The Civil Discourse Program

Social Media Companies Should Regulate Themselves

Social media companies regulating themselves is more beneficial compared to the federal government regulations.  As a result of self-regulation, Social Media companies would be able to make necessary interventions more quickly and prevent issues that may arise from such close government oversight.

Posted content and interactions on social media occur in a dynamic, fluid, fast changing environment. The federal government is simply not capable of keeping up with this rapid pace of activities. An example of this is nonconsensual pornography. 

Facebook, for example, has a dedicated team of people specifically montering and developing AI to counteract the devastating effects of “revenge porn.” There are currently four states that lack any laws about posting illicit content without the subject’s consent and there is no federal law. The laws that do exist are fairly recent while social media platforms have been taking these things down for years on their own. 

There are many things that are kept off or taken down from social media that violate their terms of agreement that are harmful but not illegal. If the government were in charge of regulating social media, much of this content would stay up longer and have more time to spread farther, causing increased devastation. Every reported post would be subjected to First Arguments versus community standards, creating a much more hostile environment.

Other problems with the government regulating social media include politics and censorship. It was recently announced that President Biden ordered the Department of Homeland Security to form a board to combat disinformation. If you think this is a good idea, would you be as supportive if Donald Trump did the same thing under his presidency?  How about Barack Obama?  George W. Bush? Chances are personal politics influence your thoughts and answers to these questions. We should all be wary of the federal government having the ability to control what information we have access to. 

The power to censor and control a political narrative is a dangerous impulse that must be checked. We might be supportive of it when “our side” is in power. However, history shows that the pendulum will eventually swing the other way. You may be supportive of “the voice of disinformation” being censored today, but tomorrow that voice could be yours.
In conclusion, social media companies should not be regulated by the federal government.  The potential for abuse is too great. These companies should have the power to regulate themselves and we, as users, should provide them with input on how to best do that. This approach, while not perfect, will allow companies to keep up with the rapid changes in internet technology and current events. It will also ensure that these decisions aren’t made by politicians who are heavily influenced by political agendas.

Authors: Moriah Rivera-Lawrence, Cheyann Rider, Yahaira Suarez and The Civil Discourse Program

Check out the next upcoming debate:

The next upcoming debate: Should colleges adopt a zero-tolerance policy for academic dishonesty?
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