In the United States, the First Amendment protects people’s right to free speech and freedom of expression. Therefore, it can easily be argued that government regulation of social media would be a huge step back in our fight for democracy and individual expression.
However, it goes without saying that freedom of speech does not cover the misuse of speech. The US Capitol Insurrection on January 6, 2021 proves that many people are now using their freedom of speech to incite violence as well as spread hate and misinformation. Since the results of the US presidential election were published on November 8, 2020, Trump supporters continued to push the narrative that the election was “stolen” and that Trump was the real winner even though there was no tangible evidence to back this up. These conspiracies spread rampantly across the conservative community and escalated into protests. Eventually, they led to the deadly riot on Capitol Hill on the day the Electoral College votes (which confirm the results of the election) were to officially be counted by Congress.
Another example of misinformation being spread would be when political commentators, such as Candace Owens, shared blatantly false stories that attempted to make Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was killed by police in her own home, seem at fault for her own death. A video of Owens quickly went viral in the conservative community claiming that Breonna was “knee deep in drugs” and that it was what happened was to be expected since her boyfriend who was with her at the time of the shooting was a drug dealer. In reality, Breonna had done nothing wrong. No drugs were found in her house, and she had actually stated previously that she was no longer in contact with her ex-boyfriend who was the target of the investigation. It is also important to note that police in this case had a no-knock warrant meaning they didn’t have to announce their presence. The police at the time even claimed that they were told to disregard the no-knock portion of the warrant and to properly announce themselves since Taylor was not deemed a threat. After interviewing 12 neighbors, police found that only one neighbor heard a single announcement from the police before they broke through Taylor’s door with a battering ram. This led to Taylor’s boyfriend at the time to shoot at the police since he believed someone was breaking into the house to which the officers returned fire, killing Taylor in the process. Events like this just show the power of social media and why the spread of false information needs to be stopped.
While I do not believe that the government should be able to regulate social media platforms as a whole, there are certain areas that they can and should legislate on. This would be the areas of terrorist-like propaganda and politically motivated misinformation. To do this, the government can pass legislation like the Honest Ad Act proposed by Congress. This advocated that the same laws which apply to TV and radio political ads should apply to social media political ads as well. This ensures more transparency from the platforms about who is paying for the political advertisements.
I would advocate for regulation and moderation from social media companies themselves with very limited government involvement. These social media giants have more than shown they are prepared to take on more responsibility. Twitter has worked on hate group accounts, YouTube has added more real people to review whether videos violate guidelines, and Facebook has committed to monitor abuse on its website. Many platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have also introduced fact-checkers to flag certain posts to let users see if something may include false or misleading information. However, these flags are not always accurate. Not tomention almost every mainstream social media platform banned former President Donald Trump’s accounts once he continued to feed a false narrative of a stolen election even after the January 6 Capitol insurrection. Through this co-regulation, the government along with social media platforms can work together to take joint accountability and responsibility for regulating disinformation to make social media a better, safer place that protects the interests of the public.