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Regulating Social Networks: The Missing Piece

Is it paradoxical to denounce the softness of social networks in the hunt for disinformation and, at the same time, in standing up to the censorship of certain accounts or publications? I don’t think so because in both cases, we miss the main problem: the absence of regulation.

Photo: A need to experiment the regulation of Internet users by Internet users / Credits © Adem AY / Unsplash 

In the United States, there is now a law that prohibits censorship of accounts or content on social networks. The “Stop Social Media Censorship Act” was enacted in the very last week of May, by the governor of Florida. The question of its constitutionality, and its enforceability, leaves American legal professionals more than doubtful. However, at the time of writing, neither Twitter, Facebook nor YouTube have indicated whether they plan to comply with this novel law, nor whether they plan to challenge it in court.

Toughening up moderation?

In the “pro-regulation” camp, people are also making moves. France, for example, has just announced the creation of a national network monitoring agency to fight against the manipulation of information from abroad.

The platforms, themselves, are looking for their own solutions. Facebook turned to its Supervisory Board to rule on the suspension of former U.S. President Donal Trump’s account. The answer was an astonishing “return to sender”: yes to maintain the sanction, but Facebook should “reconsider the arbitrary decision imposed on January 7” in the next six months.

Let it go?

We can consider that platforms are well within their rights to restrict access or availability of content. That they are only a distribution tool, without any other form of responsibility, and that no moderation, no matter how rigid, will be able to prevent the dramas that take place in society.

But we can also think that the power of social networks and their omnipresence in our daily life represents a capacity of influence and a threatening power for our freedom.

Giving power to the users

So there is still one track that I think has not been explored: giving full control of the regulation to the users themselves. Because we have to be aware that until now the dice have always been loaded.

Self-regulation by Internet users cannot work under the current conditions. By means of parameterization tools, we have been led to believe, that we have the upper hand, that we choose our friends as well as our ads, that we control our reading threads. But this is not the reality.

In fact, the algorithms have been programmed to respond to commercial motivations, based on the economy of attention and the strategy of influence. All the clauses, the terms of use, the opt-in popup are useless against this powerful cash machine.

When we accept the idea of this advertising counterparty, we do not measure to what extent we give up our rights to freedom of choice, control and therefore regulation.

The next giants

Hiding behind the model of “data sale” and “advertising targeting”, is a model of influence, of dumbing down that we must break.

To get out of this vicious circle, where any attempt at moderation seems futile, it would be necessary to regulate the commercial practices of the media platforms. Impose the use of algorithms to improve our user experience, not to over-consume.

There are already models of collective moderation, such as Wikipedia. And I want to believe that the next giants will be those who have already thought about these other possible social media. Where the user will have his place. And where we can really experiment with the regulation of Internet users by Internet users all while respecting the law.

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