Opinion: Social media fueled the Capitol mob. Now Biden and Congress should crack down
The division of users into echo chambers, in which only extreme – and often incorrect – points of view can move, is probably the most important driver of political polarization. Without a social media landscape that arouses outrage and division, the riots at the Capitol likely never would have happened. After so much damage had been done and only a few days had passed in the Trump presidency, social media and tech companies eventually banned Trump and the apps some supporters of the white supremacists used to incite violence. But those decisions were made too late and now risk conspiracy theorists who still believe the election was stolen. They also raise legitimate questions about why we let for-profit companies set the rules for democratic engagement online in the first place.
Problematic is that we have passed the rules of online deception, harassment, and incitement to violence to powerful tech CEOs who are not accountable to the public. Our democratic institutions need to regain control and put in place regulations that deal with cutting edge online propaganda.
Here’s how Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration should deal with social media regulation in the coming months:
Establish a disinformation task force
In order for the Biden Harris administration to begin addressing the problem, it should view the spread of disinformation as a fundamental threat to progress in all facets of politics, as a grand coalition of which I was a member last month.
The spread of online disinformation is not only a threat to our democratic institutions. It also undermines important efforts to respond to the pandemic or tackle climate change. In-depth management should set up a task force to investigate the harm caused by disinformation on social media. launch a website to combat virus disinformation; and appoints a disinformation expert to the Covid-19 Task Force – this person would be responsible for coordinating a national response.
By prioritizing the fight against disinformation, the next government can help restore similarities between existing factions, lay the foundation for Congress to reverse the breakdown of our democratic institutions and repair our broken information ecosystem.
Extend financial information disclosure laws
For far too long, the specter of the First Amendment has been used by actors who benefit from an unregulated Internet to prevent laws from increasing online transparency, especially when it comes to political speeches.
Six years ago, as deputy chairman of the Bundestag Electoral Commission, I asked the commission to discuss political online news that was and is largely exempted from federal campaign funding disclosure laws. These loopholes allow malicious actors – both domestically and internationally – to anonymously target voters with inflammatory propaganda, and to use influencers, troll farms, and fake accounts to amplify their messages outside the public eye.As internet political disinformation turns into physical violence, it is time to implement major reforms like HR1, recently reintroduced in the House of Representatives. HR1 implements clear disclosure and disclaimer requirements for online political ads, engages organizations to disclose their top donors, and requires tech companies to maintain a public database of online political ads that will be displayed to their users, including who the ads will be targeting , the buyer and the calculated prices.
Improve the moderation of online content
Congress should also pass laws requiring social media and technology companies to improve the transparency of their content moderation processes, conduct regular risk assessments that examine how their rules and recommendations can help prevent misleading propaganda and other harmful ones Disseminate content, and work with government agencies, experts, consumer groups and civil society groups to study appropriate harm reduction strategies.
In their role as gatekeepers of public discourse, social media companies should also be encouraged to develop a crisis log that can be activated to curb the spread of harmful activities that pose an imminent threat to public safety or health. Other jurisdictions like the EU are currently considering options like this, and US lawmakers should also have a thoughtful debate on how to hold platforms accountable without compromising free speech. The violent outburst of anger, which disrupted an important step in the peaceful transfer of power and resulted in the deaths of five people, was not only the result of white supremacy and the theorists of viral conspiracy made possible by unregulated digital platforms, but also avoidable. We stare into the abyss, but the erosion of our democracy is not an inevitable fate.