Ranging from President Donald Trump to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, many on the right and the left want to punish and further regulate America’s tech giants.
Trump’s threats to do just that increased this year after Twitter and Facebook finally took steps to address the president’s many falsehoods.
A recent example involved the conspiracy group QAnon, which falsely claimed that the federal government had quietly adjusted the number of deaths in the United States caused by COVID-19. QAnon falsely claimed the CDC admitted that underlying health conditions killed all but a small fraction of the 200,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.
This false information was retweeted and posted on Facebook by thousands of people, including Trump and Rep. Roger Marshall, Kansas Republicans’ candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Responding to complaints from users, Facebook and Twitter checked with the CDC, which refuted the claims, as did top health authorities in and out of government. As a result, Facebook and Twitter removed or labeled the false claims.
Trump, Marshall and their supporters then claimed they were victims of political bias.
Hardly. It’s just that Twitter and Facebook finally took some modest steps to address serious, widespread problems of false claims made by Trump and other elected politicians and their supporters.
Social media companies have long applied such standards to other users. Misinformation — along with incitement of violence, harassment, etc. — is typically prohibited on social media sites.
Recent surveys from Pew Research Center found that 75% of Americans think social media companies have a responsibility to prevent misuse of their platforms to influence the election. The problem is that Americans disagree about what qualifies as misuse. Typically, misuse is what their political opponents are doing.
Historically, government has been wary about regulating media. But there are areas in which traditional media (TV and newspapers, for example) are required to make certain disclosures or take particular actions, even as the First Amendment limits how far government can go.
In developing new regulations, we should understand this: Google, Facebook and the rest of the tech giants are in it for the money. Their goal is to optimize revenue, not push an ideological view.
Trump’s attempts to regulate content at tech companies would turn the United States into a China or Russia, where government dictates what is and is not allowed on the internet.
Republicans might think that’s a great idea – unless a Democrat wins the presidency.
Rather than push to regulate the content that Facebook must carry or that Twitter must ban, some on the left think the federal government should break up the tech giants.
In between are those who think new laws are needed to ensure smaller businesses have a fair shot at competing in a universe dominated by behemoths that gobble up any up-and-coming challenger. Such steps as updating antitrust laws and requiring equal access through internet neutrality rules, which the Trump administration eliminated, would be part of that plan.
Just as important are better accountability and transparency. For example, political advertisements and paid influencers should be clearly identified. The public also should be privy to what information about them gets traded and sold.
Rather than attempting to regulate political views, new laws should be aimed at providing more transparency, protecting privacy and creating a fair playing field for businesses.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas.