The Age of Social Media Regulation
What does the shift toward tighter internet rules mean for app developers?
The days of unfettered social media seem to be disappearing before our very eyes. In recent weeks governments around the world have been proposing and passing legislation to curtail “harmful” content online. What makes this a watershed moment is the surprising level of consensus among political parties and the broader public. There is widespread agreement that regulation is needed, as well as hefty fines for companies that fail to remove flagged content quickly and jail time for executives who neglect the new rules. Some observers have even gone as far as to call social media an unregulated weapon. They say the ability of sophisticated algorithms to spread inflammatory content to those users likely to be the most riled up about it is a public danger the same way guns (at least in the U.S.) have made life unsafe.
Social Media in 2019
They look to recent violent episodes, most notably the massacre in New Zealand, and more recently, Sir Lanka, as evidence that something needs to be done. On March 15, a 28-year-old Australian man carried out consecutive terrorist attacks against Muslim worshipers during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Before he was apprehended, the man – a white supremacist politically aligned with the so-called alt-right – had killed 50 people and injured 50 more.Notably, the killer had streamed a live video on Facebook showing images of his first assault; it had amassed 4,000 views before it was taken down, raising pressing questions about the social media giant’s slow response time. Last month, Islamic terrorists in Sri Lanka who may have been seeking revenge for the Christchurch attacks launched a coordinated assault on three Catholic churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo on Easter Sunday. They left over 300 people dead and injured at least at 500. In the immediate aftermath of that attack, Sri Lankan authorities took a bold move. They decided to shut down the main social networks – Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Snapchat – out of fear that more violence would ensue. In the following weeks, countries reacted to these events with legislation. Australia passed a law to punish social media companies that fail to “expeditiously” take down “abhorrent, violent material” from their platforms. New Zealand, Britain, Germany, Singapore, and India adopted or are considering similar measures. But these violent episodes are just part of the larger unease that has come to dominate political discourse. Politicians and concerned members of the public are currently embroiled in debates about how to control the spread of fake news and limit election meddling on social media platforms.
In the following weeks, countries reacted to these events with legislation. Australia passed a law to punish social media companies that fail to expeditiously take down abhorrent, violent material from their platforms