Lawmakers in the US are getting increasingly frustrated with social media and it seems as if they mean business.
As Frank Pallone said, “your business model itself has become the problem and the time for self-regulation is over. It’s time we legislate to hold you accountable.”
Trying to tie the leaders of Google, Facebook and Twitter to ‘yes or no’ answers (that was never about to work) is an indication of the complexity of the problem and the relative ignorance of the lawmakers asking the questions.
Social media, as we have discussed before, has gone through several stages. Facebook, the most obvious subject, started as Facemash, by Mark Zuckerberg, after a not very successful date. He hacked the Harvard systems and used the students’ photo IDs to populate his site so that students could judge people as being ‘hot’ or ‘not’.
And you might ask whether that was social or not – ‘yes or no’.
Facebook went on to become, well, Facebook, the most popular social network on the planet. It became anti-social, commercial, and now a platform where, without question, events such as the attack on the seat of US law and power are ‘nourished’.
Twitter, likewise, is well known as the platform where hate and venom can be poured on to the heads of public figures, from the safety of your own fake identity.
Both ‘social media’ platforms cause untold misery, becoming boiling pots for feuds, extreme opinions and bullying.
Yet, even if the question of whether they are platforms or publishers can be answered, the problems associated with social media are not going away anytime soon.
Suppose that the lawmakers in the US do decide to regulate them. Then what?
Just because a law is passed that says you are responsible for the content on your site, the question remains – how? The sheer volume of posts and tweets and news that is feeding onto Facebook, Twitter and others is surely too big even to begin to regulate.
The amount of money and time that social media companies are already throwing at self-regulation and screening is immense and is still not succeeding.
Even Zuckerberg’s proposal for self-regulation and best practices feels like fiddling while Rome burns. And in this age of instant gratification, no-one is going to seriously suggest that users will need to wait to see their post – for hours at least – while it is screened.
It is a thorny issue for social media companies and one that must be added to the other thorny problems they face.
Between the enclosing horns of regulation, antitrust suits and an accelerating movement to stop them using our data for profit, it is difficult to see where social media companies can go to make things right. Or where this will end up.