Should We Regulate Social Media?
Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask what limits, if any, we should place on the power of social media. With social media being part of how Russia and the world deal with the conflict in Ukraine, this month’s topic seems more timely than ever.
Twitter suspends a president for supportive tweets about the January 6, 2021 insurrection. Musicians pull music from Spotify because Joe Rogan’s podcasts are claimed to contain COVID misinformation. Facebook (now Meta) boosts posts that play to controversy and confrontation. Should social media decide who can communicate and what we can see? Should the government limit in any way what we can say about events, politics, and morality? Should the public be trusted to evaluate what is true and what is fake news? If social media is regulated, what else should be a target of the truth police? As those who are “woke” track down our questionable past statements and those who are “awakened” seek to monitor what teachers teach, which is the cure and which is the disease?
Former President Trump was a tweeter extraordinaire. Now that he can’t tweet are we happier or sadder? Has his influence lessened or is it greater than ever? Will his new TRUTH Social media platform restore his clout or be a joke? (What’s the Russian word for “Truth”? “Pravda.”) Did his banning from non-alt social media lead to unemployment among fact checkers? Were the fact-checkers truly targeting false facts, or statements of opinion they didn’t accept? Should private companies have the power to silence a global politician for his views, even his doubtful and hateful ones? If they shouldn’t, who should?
The print media enjoys protection from the First Amendment. Former Alaska governor and 2008 Vice Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, recently found out how hard it is to sue a newspaper even for a misleading claim of complicity in a mass shooting. The broadcast media were once subject to a fairness doctrine, which required the airing of opposing viewpoints. Should we subject our cable news networks to such a rule? Should print, broadcast, and social media be treated differently? Are lies not lies, no matter who tells them or where they appear? Who do we trust to distinguish between aggressive reporting and hate speech?
Philosopher John Stuart Mill proposed a free marketplace of ideas. He trusted the good sense of the people to separate wisdom from lunacy. Do we trust the public as much as Mill did? Was Mill naïve in hoping folks would listen to all viewpoints rather than only their favorite newspaper or news channel? Can we see truth when it faces us, and can we face truth once we see it? Can we admit that we were wrong? Mill said, “The only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind.” But he also said, “So long as an opinion is strongly rooted in the feelings, it gains, rather than loses, in stability by having a preponderating weight of argument against it.” Does exposure to different ideas make us more flexible and tolerant, or more determined to shut up people we disagree with? Was the 2020 election stolen or fair? Was January 6 a peaceful protest or sedition? Do some of us live in an alternate universe, which the truth cannot penetrate?
Some countries regulate or ban social media. Do we see China and Russia as models for responsible evaluation and communication of ideas? Should the U.S. Federal Communications Commission tell us who can tweet or post? Can it demand that certain communications be deleted and prosecute those which it deems contrary to the public good? Individual social media accounts were used to identify Capitol rioters and send them to prison. But similar surveillance of social media is used to imprison dissidents in Hong Kong. Which is good and which is bad — and why?
Anyone who has watched the movie, The Social Network, may have reservations about entrusting Mark Zuckerberg with the power to decide the public good. But if we rely with libertarian fervor on industries to regulate themselves, what is the alternative? If we instead rely on the government, do we feel comfortable with elected disciples of QAnon or Woke culture doing the job? Who watches the watchmen, whether they’re from the private or public sector? If all we post are cute pet videos, should we care?
Once again Zoom allows those from far away to join our Minnesota based discussion. The Zoom link is http://www.zoom.us/j/99973128471.