Digital Age: Should social media be regulated?

KRAKOW, POLAND - 2019/02/10: Black facebook logo is seen on an android mobile phone. (Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Written by Semyon Dovzhik/Video by Mateo Castaneda/Audio by Emua Adodo/Produced and edited by Laura Guerrero.

After a speech made at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen sparked a controversy over the possible regulation of social media.

Cohen accused Facebook, YouTube, and other social media platforms in spreading hate speech and misinformation.

“All this hate and violence [in the world] is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history,” says Cohen.

He was especially critical of Facebook.

“Fortunately, Twitter finally banned them, and Google is making changes, too. But if you pay them, Facebook will run any ‘political’ ad you want, even if it’s a lie… noting the company would even help an advertiser find the right micro-targeted audience for the message,” says Cohen.

In response, Facebook said that Cohen misrepresented its policies. “Hate speech is actually banned on our platform. We ban people who advocate for violence and we remove anyone who praises or supports it,” responded Facebook.

Devin Andrade, Seneca College’s School of Media social media lead, believes some regulations should be applied on social media. Andrade says that the owners of the internet companies should be held to a certain standard to make sure that false and hateful information is not being published and shared so easily.

Watch Seneca students speaking about  online bullying, and Devin Andrade’s take on social media regulation.

At Seneca, many students have witnessed online bullying, shaming or hate speech on social media, like the television student, Tory Sullivan.

After coming across various types of hateful speech online, especially on YouTube, Sullivan tries to avoid comment sections on social media. “The most negative and hateful people feel the need to comment there, with their hateful views. Freedom of speech is not a right to hurt other people,” says Sullivan.

Some of the students have been victims of online bullying themselves, like Grace Wang, also a television program student at Seneca. “I felt very angry, I felt sad. Why people want to do this? Why people are being rude?” says Wang.

Grace Wang asked for support from her family, and thanks to this support, she was able to overcome the abuse. Wang thinks other people who suffer from bullying on social media should call for help as well. “Call someone, tell a friend,” says Wang.

However, Andrade points out the complicity of applying regulations online. “The trouble comes down to the fact that social media and the internet is obviously worldwide. So how do you regulate something that might start here in Toronto, but it reaches everywhere? Maybe you violated regulations in Toronto. But if it’s gone so far out of Toronto, how do you still regulate that?” says Andrade.

Andrade calls for the managements of every social network to vet — ads like political ones ­– and reject them if they don’t meet certain standards, even though it might mean losing money. She also believes social media needs to take responsibility for fact-checking and preventing misinformation.

Finally, Andrade also makes a call for media consumers to think critically about what they’re reading online.

Discussion about regulating social media had been a hot topic throughout the year. In February, Anne Applebaum, a columnist for The Washington Post, argued “in favor of applying to the online world the same kinds of regulations that have been used in other spheres, to set rules on transparency, privacy, data and competition.” She claims the future of democracy is a stake.

There’s been a lot of additional commentary about this topic. For instance, what about the government’s role? Experts are divided whether government should regulate social media. Listen to a Policy 360 podcast episode on this issue. And if you want to understand how it plays into cyber-bullying,  here is some of the latest research on this issue.

Cohen’s speech is still provoking numerous responses and ongoing discussions on social media and news outlets.



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