Facebook: Problem With Open Platforms

José Valdivia, Op/Ed Editor

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  Climate change, Russian hacking, illegal immigrants, and fires—these are all topics that can be read across social media and news outlets. On Facebook, there are currently millions of posts being shared about such topics, and, most certainly, an overwhelming proportion of them is fake news.

Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, have had a bumpy ride since the website’s creation in 2005. Between scamming, advertising, and even US congressional scandals, the platform has struggled to elude public criticism.

Now, Facebook could be facing legislative changes, including regulation from Congress, as, according to the New York Times,  “Mr. Zuckerberg appeared before the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees” to testify about the website’s privacy.

Within this era of political turmoil, characterized by President Trump’s persistent attack on journalism, Facebook’s most recent scandals are ones of propaganda, fake news, and fear.

The most prominent of these issues within the US is Russia’s alleged interference with the presidential election, which led some to believe that President Trump won due to voter manipulation. According to this claim, Russia spread hateful propaganda with fake accounts of other candidates in order to garner votes and sway the public towards Trump. This culture of lies on Facebook does not end here and extends into genocide.

In Myanmar, “The United Nations has blamed Facebook for the dissemination of hate speech against Rohingya Muslims… [resulting] in their ethnic cleansing,” according to the New York Times.

On top of that, “sensitive data of as many as 87 million Facebook users were harvested without explicit permission by a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, which was connected to the Trump campaign.”

While some incidents like the data breach could be completely blamed on Facebook, others, like the ways random users choose to express the First Amendment—even if it is undesirable propaganda—cannot be attributed to Facebook’s lack of self-regulation.

Instead of choosing an easy scapegoat, like a multi-million dollar company, Internet users should “perhaps grow up about the dilemma of open platforms and the First Amendment,” believes Wall Street Journal writer Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

Censorship on the Internet, to a certain extent, should not be allowed—it undermines free expression. To blame the entire election of a presidential candidate on Russia’s Facebook propaganda is a little far-fetched. If such an incompetent candidate won, it proves growing intolerance and ignorance in the US population—not that the Russian government’s Facebook posts swayed an entire election.

Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society writes that, although “Russian operations are observable,” it is not clear if “they actually made a difference to politically active beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors [in] America.”

Still, this does not mean that Internet monopolies like Facebook should remain untouched. Without government regulation on any rapidly growing industry, there is bound to be corruption and exploitation.

This is not a partisan issue. It is a privacy issue. Even Republicans, who tend to champion small governments with little regulation, believe open platforms have become an issue. One conservative member of Congress, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, stated, “continued self-regulation is not the right answer when it comes to dealing with the abuses we have seen on Facebook.”

For today’s youth, the majority of whose lives have become digital, this social media issue is especially impactful. Navigating open platforms, contrary to older tech-ignorant generations’ beliefs, is nothing new or daunting to the twenty-first century teen. This era of cyber-uncertainty is a learning opportunity—a harbinger of what the Internet could become if massive companies are allowed to self-regulate.

Hopefully youth will take this with them to, in the future, draft legislation from an informed and experienced perspective, as well as prevent massive e-monopolies from forming and further commoditizing their users.

The question is: how should we regulate open platforms? And to what extent? Of equal importance, should individual users also take action?

Moral philosopher Dr. S. Matthew Liao contends that “Facebook has played a significant role in undermining democratic values around the world.” He considers that individuals should, perhaps, choose to leave Facebook because “[participating] in a collective action (that is, leaving Facebook) [could] prevent the deterioration of democracy”—a pretty radical, and almost irrational, ‘solution.’

The Wall Street Journal says, “somebody might well be deserving of blame for this, but it’s not Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg.” Facebook is just a scapegoat for a larger issue—lack of regulation, in general.

The government, individuals, and open platforms have a mutual responsibility to uphold the truth, even on the immense and uncharted territory that is the Internet. There is no single party to blame for hate, propaganda, or fake news spreading rampantly across Internet platforms. Rather, each constituent involved in the dissemination or regulation of information—whether government, user, or corporation—should take steps to ensure accuracy of facts.

For example, Congress should place regulations on open platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. These massive companies should be held somewhat accountable for their users’ posts. As such, legislation should be passed protecting the individual from the unforgiving world of data capitalism.

Users should be aware that websites like Facebook are an open platform—subject to the freedom of the First Amendment. As such, anything can be posted; consumers should approach everything with doubt and avoid falling trap to idealistic naïvité, which holds that everything on the Internet is factual.

 Massive companies must, according to Dr. Liao, “be much more proactive in fixing problems” like the lack of users’ cyber-safety. Facebook could take steps to protect their users’ information from nefarious businesses like Cambridge Analytica. They must create stringent yet reasonable privacy policies; as well as stick by them, when actually enforcing them online.