Guest opinion: Moderation or destruction? That’s huge choice facing social media
Today we live in a much more complicated world. Totally unregulated capitalism can, and often has, hurt the public interest and the liberties we so cherish….
Editor’s note: David Gardner is founder of Cofounders Capital in Cary and is a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire. He and other columnists are part of our regular Startup Monday package.
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CARY – When I was a young man, things were simple. Communism was bad and capitalism was good. Censorship was bad and free speech was good. The battle lines were clear and it was obvious which side you should be on.
Today we live in a much more complicated world. Totally unregulated capitalism can, and often has, hurt the public interest and the liberties we so cherish. Nowhere is this more evident today than in the area of social media. We would all agree that freedom of speech is one of the inalienable rights guaranteed by the constitution but many interpret this as the right to say and post anything without moderation or consequences regardless of its truthfulness or the harm it may cause.
A number of legal battles have been in the news lately involving this question. Google is currently before the supreme court which will decide if the company is liable for enabling terrorist groups to openly communicate their propaganda and even coordinate attacks through social media.
Free Speech at all cost or Moderation?
On the one hand you have self-proclaimed “free speech” proponents like Elon Musk who seems to be transforming Twitter out of the content moderation business all together. It appears that his position is that social media platforms have zero responsibility for what users post or do on their platform.
Moderation proponents disagree. They point out that if a man falsely yells “fire” in a theater and someone is trampled to death in the panic then that man can be held accountable i.e. such actions are not protected by free speech. But, what if the man did not yell “fire” but rather he owned the theater and invited the perpetrator up on stage to make the announcement? What if the man owning the theater did not stop or contradict the “fire” proclamation even though he knew it was false and that it would create a public safety crisis? Most would argue that the theater owner would still be liable for the harm caused to some extent.
Such is the case with social media today. Billions are spent by the FDA to make sure that marketing and labeling claims are truthful each year. They do this to protect the public from the harm that false claims can cause. However, social media platforms are required to spend nothing to moderate or remove false claims, fake news and harmful medical advice that can and often does literally put people’s lives, fortunes and even democracy itself at risk.
Moderation Opponents are Winning
The “no moderation” folks have been winning this debate so far. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok and others are worth trillions and can spend tens of millions on PR and government lobbyists but the outcry for moderating content is growing.
The public is starting to realize the incredible power unregulated social media platforms wield in their position as both megaphone and potential gatekeeper. There is more at stake here than posting predators preying on weaker minds that don’t know how to vet the credibility of their information sources. Democracy only works when the majority of voters are getting truthful news and facts so that they can make informed voting decisions. With no consequences for creating and promoting misinformation and false news, any entity, even foreign ones, can utilize social media to manipulate tens of millions of Americans into voting against their own self interest.
Entities and individuals who would weaponize social media for their own manipulative purposes have a tremendous advantage over legitimate journalists and credible news agencies. The most expensive cost in reporting legitimate news today is labor. Every story has to be fact checked and statements corroborated by multiple sources, etc. before something can be published or reported as “news”. Indeed, this is what makes the source “credible”. However, fake news and fake medical cures, etc. with an intriguing headline can be fabricated for a fraction of the time and cost of real validated journalism. Truth in reporting is literally losing this battle. The day prior to the 2016 election, for example, three out of four articles published on the top four social media platforms in the US as legitimate and factual happenings were found to be totally or at least partially fictitious and manipulative.
Government Protection or Interference
I’m a capitalist and have always believed in free markets but I also believe that the government should intervene in these markets when the public safety and well being is being put at risk. Social media companies are making billions through advertising and the data they collect on us. These profits are all made possible because of the content they allow to be broadcasted on their platforms regardless of how truthful or harmful that content may be. Advertisers and social media companies continue to get richer. The more outlandish the content, the more people read it. None of them want to stop the gravy train no matter how much harm it is causing to individuals and our democracy.
The question I’m asking is when will our government get around to protecting us by requiring social media companies to moderate the content they broadcast on their platforms? When will companies and brands become better corporate citizens and stop advertising on and enriching social media platforms that refuse to take on the cost of moderating the content they empower? When will lawmakers on both sides of the aisle stop appeasing social media lobbyists? When will candidates start to reject the campaign contributions and influence of mega social media companies? When will the anti-moderation, single-bottom-line thinking executives and politicians stop pretending to be champions of free speech and start protecting their neighbors and constituents from what many consider to be the greatest threat to public safety and our democracy since the second world war?
The post Guest opinion: Moderation or destruction? That’s huge choice facing social media first appeared on WRAL TechWire.
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