Social Media Companies: Is There a Need for Government Regulation?
One of the primary justifications of the growth of the modern administrative state is based upon a theory of market failure. Under this theory, market regulation is needed in order to protect the public from actual or potential abuses of powers by business organizations. Regulation is justified on the grounds that without accurate product information, consumers cannot make a reasoned choice about whether to purchase a product and thus these businesses need to obtain a license before selling their product to the public.
Government regulation is also justified based on the need to ensure that competitive conditions exist in the marketplace. Government has traditionally accomplished this goal in two ways. The first is by passing antitrust laws. Antitrust laws are designed to prevent a firm or a couple of firms from gaining monopolistic power in the marketplace. The second is based on the precept that if a free market is to work well, consumers need adequate and accurate information to evaluate competing products. These issues are magnified when the information being provided by companies is both inaccurate and misleading. Government has long justified the regulation of commercial advertising to protect the public from private firms engaging in such activities.
Social media platforms have produced highly profitable businesses by connecting users in a virtual environment that was impossible prior to the creation of the Internet. When Internet companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and others are successful, they create a “feedback loop” that can be monetized by selling advertising to groups of like-minded people. The downside of these social media networks is that users can distort information, manipulate digital content for political purposes, and present misinformation about public policies, political candidates, and the outcome of elections. The political effect of these social media companies has been to encourage “extremists views,” increase political polarization, and undermine basic elements of our democratic political system.
Under Section 230 of Communications Decency Act of 1966, social media platforms have been held to be immune from lawsuits related to the posts by third party users as long as the hosts actively police the content of posts. In effect, social media companies can self-regulate. Unfortunately, they have shown an unwillingness to do until recently. Following the 2020 presidential election and the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, a host of social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube (Google), suspended the account of President Trump and a number of his aides “…due to risk of future political violence.” Twitter’s decision to “deplatform” Trump was taken because he “…had used the platform to build his base and spread his messages, which were often filled with falsehoods and threats.”
Twitter followed up Trump’s suspension from by platforming” 70,000 accounts of QAnon conspiracy theorists. Later in January 2021, another 100,000 QAnon followers were deplatformed by Twitter. QAnon followers believe in the false claim that a group of Satanic, cannibalistic child sex abusers operate an international child sex trafficking ring that conspired to undermine the Trump presidency. QAnon followers also contend that Democratic politicians, business leaders, Hollywood actors, and medical experts comprise a cabal that controls American politics and the media. QAnon conspiracy theory is rooted in antisemitic tropes. Titter had previously suspended the accounts of groups promoting terrorism and acts of violence such as ISIS (ISEL), Hezbollah and Hamas.
While the Constitution does guarantee freedom of the speech, the government can regulate certain categories of speech, including slander, defamation, incitement, bodily threats, and child pornography. Social media companies can block or restrict hate speech, false news, and extremist’s views.
While Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has encouraged the development of social media platforms, it has raised questions about whether social media companies can self-regulate. Social media companies have strenuously tried to avoid government regulation of the industry’s platforms, which could affect the amount of advertising dollars flowing to these companies. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has helped social media platforms grow, but it has also made people wonder if social media companies can police themselves. Social media companies have worked hard to keep the government from regulating their platforms, because this could affect how much money they get from advertising.
Questions to be Addressed.
With this information as background, please address the following questions. Do you think that disinformation on social media platforms is a serious threat to American democracy? From your perspective how should the national government deal with this matter? Should Congress pass legislation changing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and allow government more authority to regulate the content of social media? Or should the federal government create a new agency designed specifically to regulate disinformation on social media platforms? What concerns, if any, are raised by government efforts to regulate in social media organizations? If Congress does pass such regulation what effect will this have on an individual’s First Amendment rights of free speech?
Your response to the questions raised in the position paper exercise should be written in an essay format and submitted to me via Saki, as a Word attachment. The papers must be run through Turnitin. Please cite when relying on or paraphrasing another person’s work. Use an appropriate citation style (APA preferred). If needed, put the bibliography at the back of the paper.
Papers are to be typed, double-spaced, and utilize an easy-to-read font-size (Times Roman 12 point preferred). Papers should be approximately four (4) to five (5) pages in length.
In writing your policy position paper, please review the following materials which can be found in the Files Directory Section of Saki.
Swain, J.W. & K.D. Swain. “Essential Preliminary Steps to Effective Writing.” Chapter 1 of Effective Writing in the Public Sector. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2014. Pages 3-16. (e-Reserves)
Swain, J.W. & K.D. Swain. “The Mechanics of Writing A Refresher Course on the Basic Rules of English” Chapter 2 in the Effective Writing in the Public Sector (e-Reserves)
“Memo Writing,” The Electronic Hallway (Files Directory Section of Saki