No, Regulating Social Media Won’t Mitigate Threats to the Republic

Why regulating social media in wake of Trump’s election would set a dangerous precedent.

Unregulated social media platforms apparently pose a danger to this country, NYU Stern School of Business Professor Vasant Dhar argues in a CNBC column. He writes, “Unregulated social media platforms pose significant societal risks. That’s what we found out after the 2016 election, when it became clear that social media had been used for political mass manipulation in the world’s oldest democracy.”

He then proceeds to justify this action citing a 2012 Facebook study that users’ moods could be manipulated by messages put out on the platform. Dhar then admonishes what he calls Facebook’s “algorithmic neutrality ” and says that can’t be in place going forward. (Note: Facebook’s algorithm has many serious issues, but neutrality isn’t apparent.) He adds the following:

The Facebook study of 2012 had sparked outrage and concern around the use of data for social experimentation without consent of human subjects. It was worrisome that data usage policies of virtually all digital platforms had become increasingly rapacious over the years, allowing them to do what they please with the data they collect assiduously. Facebook’s social experiment wouldn’t have been approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) for university research involving human subjects.

Imagine if the government were to regulate social media platforms? They’d have unfettered access to our personal data and other valuable information. Remember the NSA under the last administration? Given the disruptive nature of social media and government desire to stifle innovation, generally speaking, it’s not prudent to entangle government in tech—let alone any industry.

More regulation leads to less freedom. End of story.

The Russians certainly tried to screw with social media platforms last election cycle—reaching 126 million Facebook users, as well as 20 million Instagram users (per TechCrunch). However, that’s not a justification to unleash the government on social media platforms or other private entities. In fact, during a November 1st Senate Intelligence Committee hearing involving Facebook, Twitter and Google on Russian election interference, all three tech giants saidthere’s no concrete evidence Russians uploaded voter registration contact information when attempting to individually target voters with ads. Case closed.

In 2012, Pew explored the “social vote” — i.e. getting messages about voting, sending out such messages, or posting their presidential choice on a social media site – but didn’t prove the exact impact social media has on electoral outcomes. (It would be fascinating if some polling company issued a study on this.)

Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg flatly denied “fake news” or similar manipulation affected the electoral results a day after the election.

“Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way — I think is a pretty crazy idea. Voters make decisions based on their lived experience,” Zuckerberg said.

You don’t even have to like Trump to recognize the social media prowess his campaign boasted, however unorthodox it was. It worked to his advantage—and it didn’t hurt he boasted over $5 billion in earned media.

Dr. Laeeq Khan, who heads up Ohio University’s social media analytics lab, wrote in The Hill that there was more online enthusiasm for Trump citing online interest in him was three times higher than Clinton’s (per Google trend analysis), he boasted 4 million more Twitter followers than her, and voters made up their minds about Clinton by the third presidential debate despite her ramping up social media efforts.

A problem for Silicon Valley going forward is how it’ll wrestle with its leftist identity and the advent of innovation through the free market. Professor Khar cites “vagueness” as an impetus for regulating digital platforms. Innovation cannot be crippled because of a few bad actors. Khar’s views are thankfully not in the mainstream.

Look what happens when government across all levels stifles innovation. We see increased regulations placed on businesses like Uber, Airbnb, and other start-ups—which leads to less efficiency, functionality, loss of profit, and at times, the shutting down of operations altogether. Would there be calls for such a preposterous measure like regulation if Hillary Clinton won? I highly doubt it.

Government and tech should be able to work in concert with one another, with government simply creating an environment for innovation to flourish and grow—not to control it or kill it. Calling for drastic measures like full-fledged regulation of social media because your candidate lost last year will take us into dangerous territory. If government regulates social media platforms to suppress certain kinds of speech, everyone’s speech will be under attack.

Let’s not go down this path.

About the author

Gabriella Hoffman

Gabriella Hoffman is a media strategist based in the Washington, D.C. Metro Area. She has written for The Resurgent since March 2016 and serves as their D.C. Correspondent.

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