Technology companies like Facebook and Twitter have recently come under fire from everything from user privacy to prohibiting free speech. The question remains: what are social media companies responsible for when it comes to the posts of their users and how do they draw the line?
Big technology companies have been under a congressional microscope, as Parentology reported last month. That scrutiny continues as the policing of content becomes a topic of conversation.
Too Much Censoring
Earlier this year, Senator Josh Hawley introduced a social media censorship bill that would regulate the practices of tech companies. Hawley claims his bill is to protect consumers from the addictive nature of social media. Some of his suggested regulations include eliminating “infinite scroll,” auto-play features and mandatory in-app timers that alert users to how much time they are spending engaged in social media. The issue many people have with these proposed regulations is that the federal government would be placed in charge of monitoring them.
Putting the government in the position of “monitor” has many worried about the implications this would have on free speech. The White House itself has claimed social media shows bias with its content and hosted a Social Media Summit earlier this year to examine these perceived biases. If the methodology and messaging of social media need to be controlled the largest question is: by whom?
Not Enough Censoring
Social media companies are currently protected by the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Under this act, the companies are not held legally responsible for content posted by users, nor are they responsible for removing content deemed offensive.
After the recent manifesto posted by the El Paso mass shooter on social media, some are now calling for this to be examined, but it proves to be a slippery slope. “There’s a thin line between disgusting and offensive speech, and political speech you just don’t like,” Jerry Ellig, a professor at George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center and former policy official at the Federal Trade Commission told the Associated Press.
Non-partisan organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center have organized to target what they believe is the promotion of hateful propaganda by white supremacy groups through social media. For their part, Facebook and Twitter have established policies regarding inflammatory posts. Twitter now labels tweets that may be seen as offensive, requiring users to click through the warning to be able to read the tweet. Facebook and Instagram have banned white nationalist content from their sites.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to agree big technology needs to be regulated in some way. Recent Senate hearings have examined everything from user privacy to anti-trust. The protection social media companies are afforded and their right to promote free speech will surely be a part of this larger debate.
The continued examination of social media and the companies that profit from it is just getting started and poses many complex problems to be solved.