Giants of social media facing challenges over free speech and transparency

Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times, October 15, 2017, writes that after the revelation that Facebook was running Russia ads designed to tilt the 2016 election in favor of Donald Trump, the social media giants Twitter, Facebook and Google have pledged allegiance to transparency but have often failed to live up to their pledge.

The social media companies also face a conundrum over whether to allow all speech including hate speech or even dissenting speech. Trump blocked users who posted critical responses to his tweets. The Knight First Amendment Institution reacted by suing Trump for viewpoint discrimination on a public platform, a violation of the First Amendment. Others see Twitter as the property of its owner and not a public forum. Some First Amendment scholars, though, are arguing that in the era of Russian hacking, hate speech and fake news, the social media companies should take responsibility for content by regulating themselves in the manner of mainstream media. Another option puts government into an active rule in protecting the free flow of reliable information essential in a democracy. (Wired, October 11, 2017, by Leonard Caplan)

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Cindy Cohn, October 10, 2017, cautions on the risks of outside regulation of online speech. She argues for more vigorous enforcement of existing laws against foreign meddling in our elections and for understanding that it is one thing to regulate broadcast ads with large ad accounts and another to deal with myriads of low cost ads of the social media. As for improvements, besides a heavy dose of transparency, Cohn suggests that the companies could do much more to limit malicious bots and channel flooding.