Governmental Regulations on Social Media: Necessary and Constitutional

Opinions on Debatable Issues #15

The debate over regulating social media becomes increasingly contentious due to the 2020 election and the COVID-19 crisis. Fake, misleading, and false information grow and spread like wildfire, bringing confusions and sentimental conflicts to American public. With immense power, social media has a considerable amount responsibility. Without checking and regulating, it presents several dangers, including racist and radical opinions; terrorist and right-wing calls for radicalization; political advertising by foreign and domestic institutions; and federal offenses. 

Managing Social Media Platforms: The Dire Straits of Regulation | Corporate  Compliance Insights
Corporate Compliance Insights

We all know humans are not infallible, which is why we have criminal laws and civil laws to keep order and ensure public safety. The same applies to social media, which allows for the submission of user-generated content and thereby are prone to threatening and dangerous information. According to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), “private online service providers are free from liability for content posted on their sites, with some exceptions for child pornography, human trafficking, and other federal offenses.” Those exceptions are crucial. For instance, according to the Department of Justice, “Child pornography images are permanent and available through almost every internet platform” including Social networking websites. That causes a lifetime of re-victimization, causing “psychological damage that encompasses disruptions in sexual development, self-image, and developing trusting relationships in the future”. Government regulations are needed to protect those children by minimizing those illegal activities in social media. 

Want to ban child pornography: Government to SC

Some criticizers of government regulations contest that the pressure to attract and retain customers by providing trustworthy information compel the companies to regulate ads and information. However, that is a flawed argument. Tech companies have lots of interest in the advertisement industry and are reluctant to regulate content rigorously, which can cause a bad reputation due to accusations on the ground of First Amendment violation. Furthermore, the problem here is not that people not leaving when they know the site is not trustworthy, the problem is that the public cannot detect misinformation. And before they know it, they are already sharing, retweeting, and spreading the misinformation to people around them. According to the new study published in Misinformation Review, “people who get their news mainly from social media are more likely to believe falsehoods about coronavirus. They are also less likely to practice social distancing or to think Covid-19 is a threat.” This is life-risking, but obviously, people are not realizing that the information they are getting is misleading and false. Worse, people that sense the problem and look for solutions are not turning to more reliable sources. Instead, we see the exact opposite with Republicans starting to use conservative social media, such as Parler and Rumble, which spread more highly biased information that causes political conflicts and polarization, according to the New York Times. 

Social Media Regulation: Content Control vs. Platform Nudging
EDHEC Business School

The need for the government to impose federal regulation is also crucial due to the rampant spread of misinformation in today’s technologically advanced world. An MIT massive new study that analyzes every major contested news story in English across the span of Twitter’s existence looked at some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, for over more than 10 years found that “truth simply cannot compete with hoax and rumor.” That sentimental and provocative information permeates the entire internet despite some efforts of the tech company in an attempt to limit their promulgation. The study also found that on average, a false story reaches 1,500 people six times more quickly than a factual story, making it crucial that a systematic strategy and policy is established to deal with the problem.

How fake news spreads like a real virus | Stanford School of Engineering
Stranford School of Engineering

Without federal regulations, disagreements among the standard of regulation would arise between states and in different cases. The solution to the issue that states might impose no regulations or different regulations among social media is a federal government statute because, under the supremacy clause of the Constitution, federal law is supreme over state law. Therefore, with a federal policy, State or local cases or disputes can be resolved by aligning with the federal guideline while ensuring all individuals’ safety and access to reliable information. 

After discussing the necessity for governmental regulations, let’s talk about constitutionality. The most popular argument against regulation is freedom of speech and the press. However, the Constitution does not protect all speeches and expressions. The central objectives of the constitution are expressed in the preamble: 

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

President Trump, Mocking the Constitution | Constitutional Accountability  Center

The keywords are “domestic tranquility”, which infers peaceful and respectful interactions between citizens both online and in-person, “common defense”, also can be phrased as national security, “general welfare”, which suggests the wellbeing of the majority of the population, and the pronoun “ourselves” that shows the prioritizing of the entire community’s rights and freedom. With unregulated social media, provocative information and misleading falsehoods can permeate the entire nation, threatening national security and would fail to achieve “domestic tranquility” and “general welfare”. As Harvard professor Thomas Patterson says, liberty is not the freedom to do whatever you please, it is rooted in free choice but it entails the responsibility of ensuring others’ rights are not being impinged. Constitution, thus, suggests the need for governmental regulation, which in turn proves its constitutionality.  

We cannot live in a world full of lies and misleading information, which will only cause a recession of the nation and social unrest. With moderate government regulations to help the general public, who have limited knowledge and resources to detect false or harmful posts, access healthy, educational, factual, and reliable information.

Misleading Information: Creates A Negative Imagine On You Too | by  Jackeline Palacios | Medium


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