Famed artist Norman Rockwell accurately captured the milk and honey life that America was entrenched in during his long-passed time. His masterpieces depicted kids hawking lemonade from front yard stands, smiling dads sporting fedora’s, and mother’s in aprons flipping flapjacks. It was a time of wall-mounted telephones, tinfoil-covered rabbit ears, newspapers, and AM radio only. Life was good. Then along came computers, followed by the internet, followed by social media, followed by the downfall of civilization as it was once known.
When used for its proper purpose social media is a wonderful tool. It came in especially handy during the lockdown as a way of staying in touch with friends and family. But, and you knew this was coming, the purpose of social media has changed dramatically since its inception. While platforms such as Facebook still present the appearance of a nice place to post memes and cuss about how badly the Bears are losing the Sunday NFL game, it’s all a facade.
Facebook whistleblower and former product manager for the platform, Frances Haugen, has been kicking up quite a dirt pile against Zuckerburg and the gang. Haugen claims that the platform’s system serves to amplify and encourage online extremism and hatred and that FB does little to nothing to protect young users from absorbing the harmful content they willingly allow. It’s good for business.
Haugen is back in DC this week for a House hearing after a whirlwind tour of Europe where she met with top lawmakers and officials. Her efforts and previously disclosed information have spurred worldwide interest in putting the squeeze on Big Tech.
To Haugen’s credit, she has the pudding that holds the proof. As a data scientist who was part of Facebook’s civic integrity unit, she has wheelbarrows full of documents. She spent hours working overtime to secretly copy the documents which she then handed over to Congress and federal securities regulators.
It came as a surprise to Haugen how many of the lawmakers she faced were in favor of shutting down Big Tech altogether. They wanted to ban social media. But this is not Haugens intent in that she understands how important it has become to society. It’s the modern way of life. She just wants Congress and other world officials to do more to regulate what’s being blasted out, who’s doing the blasting, and who’s seeing it.
Since she initially approached Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike have put their heads together and come up with a feasible plan that wouldn’t trample on anyone’s freedom of speech. They found a little-known 25-year-old law called Section 230 and it could very well make everyone concerned very happy. This would be with the exception of Zuckerburg and other social media moguls.
The law grants internet companies immunity by holding them harmless in the event of any liability that may occur as a result of what a user posts. In the words of Alfred E. Neuman, “What me worry?” Now all Congress has to do is either completely abolish or modify Section 230 to hold Big Tech accountable. It’ll cost them millions in lawsuits they don’t want to pay and it would force them to better monitor and protect harmful information from the eyes of America’s youth. It’s tough enough growing up these days as it is.
Our gut feeling says this is the way things will go, but we’ve been fooled before and Big Tech has yet to step up to the plate with the rebuttals that are bound to come. For now, for those who have kids, all any of us can do is to keep a close eye on what they’re seeing and maybe set some parental controls.
The same thing applies to us, the adults in the room. Be careful. It’s a tangled web out there.