Should Facebook be Regulated or Trust-Busted?

social media whistleblower Frances Haugen

The Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, has become a big story in the news lately. I think most people are not really surprised about the revelations that Instagram makes people anxious and depressed and that Facebook cares about money more than people’s well being. The question, though, is where to go from here.

My stance on social media and the trust-busting thereof has not changed. Although as an aspiring author all of the advice says that having a social media presence is necessary for success, I hate social media and I am terrible at it. (Check out my books, please!).

This brings me to that question of where to go from here – from the position of having it further confirmed for us just how terrible social media is for us and how greedy and awful the social media companies are. The choices I am seeing tossed around most often are either breaking Facebook up or regulating it so as to stop “hate speech.” Both options pose problems, but I think the latter is worse. As I said in another article:

The other proposed solution is to treat popular social media sites like a publisher rather than a platform. The difference is that, as a platform, they are not responsible for the content people post on their site, just like the phone company isn’t responsible for what you say over the phone. If the social media sites were considered publishers, then it would be like they were publishing – and therefore condoning – anything that people post on their sites. As Peter Van Buren states it:

Being a platform is desirable for Facebook and the others, as it allows them to have no responsibility for the content they print, no need to create transparent rules or appeals processes for deplatforming, and users have no legal recourse. Publishers, on the other hand, are responsible for what they print, and can be taken to court if it’s libelous or maliciously false.

Social media’s claim to be a platform and not a publisher is based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That section, however, was predicated on social media companies being neutral public forums in return for legal protections against being sued over content they present. Now Twitter wants it both ways—they want the protection of being a platform but the power to ideologically manipulate their content as publishers do.

I wish I could count on people to see how ludicrous it would be the consider social media sites as publishers. That would only mean that they’d take more control over what people are saying on their sites. They would have to impose more restrictions if they wanted to avoid being accused of libel. And when it comes down to it, the people who own the sites really aren’t responsible for what people post to them.

I really don’t have anything more to add to that. Regulating social media would likely just lead to policing speech. As I’ve said before, I don’t think people have a right to say what they want on social media. But that doesn’t mean I think policing speech on social media is a good idea.

As terrible as social media is for us, and as rampant as misinformation is able to run there, I have a worse fear of having an unelected Ministry of Truth determining what is the right and wrong thing to say. We saw something similar with the lab-leak hypothesis for COVID-19, where people were only allowed to agree with the official story. There was not yet a “Data Protection Agency” but the effect was similar: social media sites, including Youtube, attempted to downplay anything that contradicted the official story.

Of course, I am philosophical (and political) pessimist. I don’t foresee things going well for the human race regardless of what we end up doing. Due to human nature, social media, whether regulated or unregulated, will remain a hotbed of lies and deceit.