Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have become an important force in American public discourse. Some politicians and commentators think they are too powerful. They want to see the federal government impose new rules on these sites. One Senate Democrat even says there may be strong bipartisan support to do just that.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey faced members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in early September to answer questions about how foreign governments may have meddled in U.S. elections. Google CEO Sundar Pichai was invited but did not attend the hearing.
This Senate scrutiny of social media comes on the heels of criticism by President Trump and prominent conservatives. The president tweeted in late August, “Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!” Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham echoed that thought a few days later on her Fox News show, saying, “There’s a thought that, given the enormity of these corporations, could there be a movement to treat [Twitter and Facebook] more like public utilities so they have some quasi-government oversight of these entities?”
As indicated by Ingraham’s idea, among the proposals to regulate social media sites is to have the government treat them as something like a public utility. This would recognize them as private entities but ones that are operated with a public purpose. The government would set rules that would prevent social media sites from denying a platform to users based on certain factors, such as political ideology.
Supporters of this level of regulation say that Facebook and Twitter operate much as the town square used to do, giving a space for people to speak and persuade others. As a virtual town square, the argument goes, these sites should allow everyone to speak. Big business has too much power to censor individuals, so the government must step in, according to those who are pushing for more federal oversight.
Opponents of this government regulations point to the dangers of government controlling media platforms. They argue that past federal rules on media content stifled debate about public policy. They say that social media companies should have the power to exclude speech that they deem offensive, such as that from the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, without fear of government reprisals.
While President Trump may be pushing for the federal government to have tighter control over social media companies, it is unclear if there is much support in Congress for such a proposal. Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said there is likely strong bipartisan support for legislation aimed at protecting privacy and cracking down on violent posts. He said that details of such a bill have not been finalized, however.
Should the government impose more regulations on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter? Do you think social media sites discriminate against conservative voices?