• Ryan Himes

Social Media Regulatory Oversight

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

An Executive Order signed by Donald Trump in June 2020 required the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communication Commission to begin actively regulating social media companies operating within the US.

The order also called for action from the Justice Department to begin drafting proposals for federal and state oversight. Ideally, the country would have one federal agency devoted to social media regulation, as continued developments within the industry reveal their self-regulation is grossly inadequate. Mark Zuckerberg himself has argued that the industry needs some form of oversight.

In a recent Netflix documentary titled "The Social Dilemma," former software engineers and executives from Facebook, Google, Pintrest, etc. were interviewed and revealed the underlying dark side of social media. Among the concerns was a fear that algorithms and their methods of influencing user behavior based on content shown were being widely abused.

Specifically, the ways in which social media apps can affect the content each user sees. If we think of social media content as information, and we think of social media companies as providers, but not producers, of information, then we can more accurately see how social media affects us. The providers of information should not have unrestricted control over the information we see because they would become in control of all information that we do not see by contrast. This can easily allow misinformation or Fake News to spread.

The term "rabbit hole" is used to refer to a user interacting with a string of posts or videos on a particular subject. These rabbit holes are directly influenced by the platform's algorithm because the algorithms essentially determine which video to show you next. Without regulatory oversight, algorithms can send users down rabbit holes riddled with misinformation, and in some cases assist in radicalization.

The original concern regarding social media was the concern of selling user's data, which still raises issue with most users, however, they continue to use. The more recent issue is the spread of misinformation, especially nearing a Presidential election and medical information during a pandemic. And social media algorithms play only a small role in the entire problem. Former engineers from Facebook and Google declare this problem is far larger than the general public realizes, and regulation is long overdue.

The time to create a substantive oversight agency was years ago, and each day we continue on without one, we dig ourselves a deeper hole to get out of.