Cliff Lampe: Social media shutdown

The move by Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat to remove or suspend President Donald Trump’s accounts, and the decisions made by Google, Apple, and Amazon that led to the Parler shutdown, continue to raise questions about the uncontrolled power of social media and the future of the platforms. Here are some excerpts from the interview with Cliff Lampe, Professor of Information at the University of Michigan:

Cliff lamp

Do you think the actions Twitter and the others have taken on President Trump’s accounts are isolated for him and anyone with questionable content, or do you think that this may be a sign of things to come?

Lamp: Well, I guess it’s not just isolated for him. I mean, Twitter closed at least hundreds, if not thousands, of accounts …

They are on some sort of mission to basically clean up their site. And I think that’s a sign of things to come …

None of the big platforms want to be known as the home of extremism …

A lot of conservatives are very crazy about it, but Twitter calculates that we can’t be the place people get angry. Law. It’s not a nice place and not good for long-term health.

Do you think they did it because it was the right thing to do, or do you think they fear more regulation later and find out if they regulate themselves a little which the government might get off their backs?

Lampe: I don’t think they are so concerned that the government is on their backs. I mean, the government has consistently been unable to regulate technology across a variety of administrations for 20 years. As of 1996, there really haven’t been any meaningful laws affecting the tech industry, so I can’t see them being too concerned about the implications of the new Congress and what it will do.

And I don’t know that they necessarily do it as the right thing; as if they just want to keep civil society alive. I think they do it as a business decision. I think they see this is good for short term sales, but long term health depends on being a sensible platform.

Do you think the time has come when the internet needs to be heavily regulated?

Lampe: If you mean regulation in relation to new laws and the like, I don’t know. There is a classic book by Lawrence Lessig called “Code 2.0”. In this book he talks about how difficult it is for East Coast code or law to regulate technology, and we’ve seen it over and over again.

There are many laws in the books that have regulated the mass media industry. It is probably time to think about what some, such as Safe Harbor laws or universal access laws, would look like to the Internet. We have privacy and copyright laws, as well as other laws that affect the internet, and of course online speaking is still subject to harassment and incitement. So it will be interesting to ponder what these social media regulations would be like.

Why not an FCC to regulate the internet?

Lampe: I think we haven’t done that for a long time because it was viewed as too little that part of the media should be regulated and then as detrimental to the business effects to be regulated. And there is also the challenge of being so global, but of course the FCC also has the same problem. You know, I think we could look at different agencies regulating the internet in different ways.

And of course, they sometimes regulate the internet in one way or another. What we’ve seen with net neutrality is a good example of this.

You’ve probably watched a chatter. What is missing or what do you think is the most important thing in recent social media campaigns?

Lampe: I think the most important thing people should know is that these companies have a lot of power, but they’re not all powerful. It’s okay to get away from Twitter or Facebook and switch to different websites. There is a rich ecology of social media platforms that you can interact with in many different ways.

So you shouldn’t feel like the company has all the power, and at the same time, there are still many benefits people are getting from it. We get a lot of positive emotional value from participating in social media. It is also our responsibility not to add to the noise and clutter while we are doing this.

Finally, do you think that these aftermath of the riot or uprising might make some people look in the mirror and be a little calmer and post less provocative things? Do you think this will affect these people’s behavior?

Lampe: I think there are some people who are affected by the unrest and who will change their behavior. But that’s a smaller percentage of people who don’t. It’s just one of those things that it’s very difficult to change once our ideas are burned in.

And there is so much misinformation that the QAnon conspiracy theory is now growing and entering a new phase, and we now have comprehensive QAnon and conspiracy theorists elected to the House of Representatives. So it’s going to be a very difficult couple of years as we have problems with this information still being disseminated by these online channels.

And it’s not just social media. Basically, it is the interface between social media and the availability of the internet in the broader sense to design a website so that everything looks true. You know, for 50 years we have instructed people with information literacy to do their own research and decide for themselves. But then we created tools that people could use to post anything and make it seem like everything could be true.

Basically, information literacy has now been so undermined that people believe they are doing the right thing by researching and looking up a topic and therefore they only fall deeper into misinformation holes. We really believed that the more information you had out there, the better. But of course that wasn’t right. It turns out that bad information is worse than no information.

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