It Is High Time To Regulate Social Media Platforms Before It Is Too Late

Silicon Valley, in the past week, faced renewed calls for bigger social media platform regulation amid the rising scandal of Russian interference in the United States elections in 2016. Given the growing awareness of serious issues within the internet giants in the United States, it is an opportune time to discuss how to best regulate the most popular media websites in the world.

Social media is a wonderful way of introducing people to a brand. It could introduce them gently to products and services of a company without the target audience feeling as if the business is shoving marketing in their faces or pressuring them to view ads that they’re not interested in seeing in the first place. Social media interactions are on public display. One of the strongest marketing benefits that social media could bring includes a chance to showcase positive customer service efforts.
Without social media, a business is limited to attracting people who look for the brand name, search for terms for which business ranks or those that already know about the website. With social media and the big audience of those willing to share and re-share content, one could amplify the reach and draw clicks from people how have never heard of the business or brand before.

In the social media world, bogus media accounts abound. This is because anyone could create or even purchase a fake account and use it for different reasons, whether to make themselves seem more popular than they really are, send spam or for more malicious reasons. Also, there are grey areas in the social media space that could cause concern to business owners.
Brands and businesses everywhere engage with top social media sites, but little is documented regarding the risk to brands of now being aware of who they are engaging with. With numerous fraudulent accounts, as well as the absence of a fundamental way of providing the identity online, what is to stop someone from hitting the company hard, when it comes to reputation? When people are anonymous, they could say things without repercussions effectively. Just consider the damage to the online trolling and bullying. In a similar way, a company’s name could be slandered, libelous and false allegations could be made with a sense of security, which anonymity brings. Moreover, people could wrongly think that they are above the law, which of course is bad news for organizations whose reputations are on the line.

Last week, the United States Senate Intelligence Committee has grilled senior legal counsel for Google, Facebook, and Twitter on their roles in Russian efforts to influence the election in the United States. The candid admissions from social media giants focus a much-needed attention to the serious issues inherent in large intermediaries’ data-extensive business models. As the United States election scandal shows, big social media entities do not only have fewer safeguards in safeguarding deliberate information manipulation, but they also have financial interests to maintain the status quo. Unfettered information flows and unconstrained advertising revenue are key to their business models and the model is extremely profitable.

By allowing anyone to make and share content social media platforms have decentralized the way information and opinions are shared in society. This brought tremendous public value, like freedom of speech and allowing education access. Nevertheless, it also has enabled individuals to spread terrorist agendas, hate speech, and fake content that could threaten social harmony and national security. Some argue that the social media environment must be thoroughly fed and left to user discretion. This anti-regulation approach is irresponsible about public interests. Without fast actions by authorities, consequences to national security and of course personal wellbeing could be irreparable. Some regulation is necessary to strike balance between free speech and protecting public interests, like social harmony and national security. 
  1. Content standards must be interpreted and operationalize on social media platforms via an inclusive mechanism. In terms of interpreting content laws, the speed and scale of the digital world make court decisions impractical. One idea is for governments as well as social media platforms should co-develop a fast mechanism that allows a spectrum of public voices to influence the interpretation of content laws in grey aspects.
  2. Governments and social media giants must establish a public accountability system. A great example is the Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Online Hate Speech, which is established by the European Commission and four major social media platforms in 2016. It sets public goals as to how rapidly illegal hate speech must be reviewed and then removed. The results are published regularly.
  3. Social media platforms and governments must both make commitments and should be held jointly accountable to public goals. For instance, although social media giants invest in systems that detect and review potentially illegal content, governments must engage the public on what constitutes ‘fake news’ and ‘hate speech’, so user-flagging will be more effective. 
In democratic countries, anonymous accounts must be prohibited. A lot raise the objection that employers check social media and they could get sacked or not hired if they made public of themselves. This is a problem of the lack of freedom of speech. Through implementing a law that enables hefty fines for social media giants that are unable to take down obviously illegal content, Germany argued that without legislation social media platforms would not take responsibilities seriously.
Governments all over the world must recognize social media platforms as legitimate representations of public interests. Governments and social media organizations are co-stewards of public interest and thus should hold joint accountability and responsibility in regulating the social media scenario in a way that represents public interests best. It is about time that they work collaboratively under the new co-regulation paradigm.

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