It's time to regulate social media giants before they regulate us

Edited By: Gravitas desk WION
New Delhi, India Published: Jan 12, 2021, 11.17 PM(IST)

SOCIAL MEDIA Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

The world is facing a peculiar challenge of filtering content and engagement on social media in a bid to contain hate speech, which was blamed for the recent attack on US Capitol which left five people dead

Bolt was the world's first social networking website, and remained active between 1996 and 2007. 25 years since its inception, the world is facing a peculiar challenge of filtering content and engagement on social media in a bid to contain hate speech, which was blamed for the recent attack on US Capitol which left five people dead.

But can we trust social media giants? How can we assume that those claiming to solve the problem aren’t helping themselves?

For weeks, Trump lied about the election being stolen from him. And for his excesses, he was simply flagged. For four years, Trump was allowed to spread hatred. Every time tech CEOs were pulled up, they said Trump's posts have political value and blocking them would mean blocking free speech.

Years of pent-up hate led to what we saw at Washington on January 6, and social media helped connect those responsible for the carnage, which was live streamed on social media.

Also read: Big Tech's ban on Donald Trump sparks debate about power wielded by companies

Trump was responsible for what happened, but so was Facebook and Twitter. When chaos struck the Capitol, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said - “The risks of allowing the president to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great”.

Trump is an outgoing president, and the Silicon Valley doesn't need him anymore.. Tech giants silenced his voice hoping to earn some cheer in their favour, and to distance themselves from the attempted coup.

European Union's Commissioner for the internal market - Thierry Breton said the following - “The fact that a CEO can pull the plug on POTU’S loudspeaker without any checks and balances is perplexing. It not only confirms the power of these platforms, but it also displays weaknesses in the way our society is organised in the digital space."

The damage done at US Capitol showed the world that American democracy is stake. 

Our systems have become puppets in the hands of social media. These platforms are used to swing elections, and to challenge results. Coups are also planned on these platforms. And CEOs of these platforms then play judge and jury. Trump should be held accountable for inciting hate, but that’s the job of the courts.

Who gave tech CEOs the power to snatch an elected leader's freedom of speech?

The thin line between free speech and hate speech, protest and incitement of violence is dictated by ideologies, and shouldn’t be up for tech firms to tell. Defining hate has to be a collective process; governments and private entities need to come up with mechanisms to jointly monitor and regulate what goes on social media..

This would also mean amending the rules of the land to regulate the digital world too. And to also ensure - that the regulations aren't misused, especially- by tech giants.

Also read: Trump calls second impeachment attempt 'greatest witch-hunt in history'

In India, the government has issued an order to regulate news on social media platforms, but its effectiveness remains questionable. Europe slaps tech giants with fines if extremist content isn't removed with an hour.

Australia has given its e-safety commissioner the power to issue “takedown notices” to social media companies, with a provision for criminal penalties. This includes possible jail sentences for tech executives, and penalties worth up to 10 per cent of the company's global turnover.

In South Korea, the government can order an information provider to restrict material. Either we legislate on the digital world, or we watch tech giants become a law unto themselves.

Read in App