What happens to social media under government regulation?

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For one thing, it could get less crowded. Twitter, Facebook and other forms of Social Media have evolved from simply enabling people to catch up with the lives (and dinners) of their friends and acquaintances, to catching up with the lives of everybody and everything under the sun. Government agencies and institutions, clubs, niche groups, private companies, bloggers and legitimate news agencies all have some sort of presence in social media flooding people with information about everything. And we just can’t get enough of it.

The zombie apocalypse is real and proven by a multitude of people walking staring blankly onto small screens on their hands. My Facebook News Feed shows more content from various groups of interest than my own friends and family do. That content comes from the various groups and blogs that I have subscribed to, and I swear the Facebook app even knows how good or bad my bandwidth is as it floods me with video feeds from groups like Yummy and Tasty whenever it can. But we’re not here to talk about food. We’re here to talk about news, real or fake which these days have become quite muddled, thanks to the aforementioned groups on social media. If social media companies want to continue to be recognized as a news source, they will have to be regulated or regulate themselves even further.

“You cannot run a democratic system unless you have a well-informed public, or a public prepared to defer to well-informed elites… And we are now rapidly heading toward neither. Without one or the other, our constitutional system and our liberal democracy will end, perhaps not imminently but over time.”

                         — Larry Kramer, Constitutional Law Expert

It takes a well-informed population to make a democracy work. People can vote properly and make sound judgements on various issues given the right info. Knowledgeable people can transcend political and partisan boundaries and vote the right person into office regardless of political affiliation. That’s democracy at work even if every individual identifies his/herself as liberal or conservative. Information, lies or truth can influence every aspect of our lives. So what happens if the public is not well-informed? The same thing that happens in every situation when the wrong or incomplete information is fed to those responsible. Disaster. And as techies in the Information Technology industry would like to say, garbage in, garbage out.

It used to be easy, filtering out real news or fake news under a democratic government. We had the broadsheets from reputable news agencies conveniently delivered at our doorstep. We have network television from major news networks. Well, they’re a semblance of real news anyway. Then we had the gray area of smaller tabloids from smaller news outfits. They’re a mixed bag of sensationalized cereal with a few nuts mixed in, and then we have the ever-reliable hot sheets; source of information for Hunters and Men in Black. If you don’t believe in aliens or in Elvis still living as a 90-year old man, then that’s fake news. In other media, we have FM radio from DWXX or RZYY versus your local weirdo with a radio transmitter.

Then came the internet and the concept of blogging, allowing the average joe to realize their dreams of being a news anchor or as a talk show host whether or not they have units in mass communication. Now, these thousands or millions of outspoken individuals (including yours truly) as well as major mass media entities converge onto social media through the links they post or individual satellite pages they put up. I haven’t read a newspaper in a decade and am one of the guilty millions getting their news from web portals and social media. I actually rely on Twitter for the weather as tweeted by the weather bureau.

Many of us busy folk hardly have the time to watch Fox or CNN to get our news unless something massive hits like Hurricane Irma or the Las Vegas Shooter. But we do have the time to look into our phones when a notification comes up. Someone sends a Snapchat message. Then we decide to check Twitter for a bit, then it goes downhill from there. So we continue reading, see what’s interesting on the news and sometimes not bothering where it came from or who wrote it and because we don’t have the time to verify will hold that to be true for the meantime unless it is totally outlandish of course. And we sometimes share that news to our friends as is the function of social media. That piece of unverified information becomes viral thus becoming the news of the day at the cafeteria or the water cooler. The facts can jump off a cliff, like lemmings.

And like lemmings, we support who and what shouldn’t be supported and deny the support to who and what should be, ending in a society jumping off a cliff. That is the power of fake news and propaganda, and it has more power now than ever before through social media; thus the call for social media to be regulated as a source of news. Internet freedom proponents disagree. Many consider the internet as the last bastion of true freedom on Earth where they can state their feelings and opinions about major issues as well as hate and swear at whomever they don’t like without the fear of any repercussions while hidden under a gradually thinning veil of anonymity.

That true freedom, however, is, unfortunately, being taken advantage of by anyone who can gain from the distortion of truth and fact. The same way as America’s brand of freedom of speech allows for hate groups to say their piece with or without opposition. But hate groups used to be able to do that in small isolated locales, unable to reach past earshot. Now they can spread that hate all over the world as ISIS does. Luckily, social media sites filter them out though they keep coming back. Social media sites, however, have a harder time with fake news. If it’s not hate speech, it’s not actively filtered though they are trying. Through the regulation of social media as a viable news source, truth and fact can be brought to the forefront. Professional journalists and bloggers alike will have to cite their sources or otherwise state that their content stems from their personal opinions and not to be taken as fact.

That is, if social media sites can actively filter out content from news and blog sites beyond their already running algorithms against fake news. Are they willing to have paid staff filtering 24/7? Let’s say they do; Social Media would then be thinned out a bit as contributors spend a little more time gathering facts like real journalists do, the honest ones anyway.

Donald Trump has called out established media outfits like CNN as delivering fake news. Content that’s contrary to him and his administration. On the other side of the world, Rodrigo Duterte actually did the same thing. Both presidents actually accuse their mainstream media companies as being dishonest and many of those who voted for them are inclined to believe so. Not really something new for conspiracy theorists, but mainstream media and their teams of professional journalists who sometimes put themselves in the middle of trouble are all we’ve got. If you can’t rely on your mainstream news networks as being truthful, where do you turn to? Pro-administration bloggers and a couple of mainstream news misfits? Those guys are on social media as well.

But regulating social media would be like regulating the internet because apart from searching news from Google, Facebook and Twitter now serve as our internet portals the way Yahoo still does. They say so themselves that most Americans get their news from them. Regulating the internet is a slippery slope, again, because it is the last bastion of true freedom of speech. Should news on Facebook and Twitter get regulated, that regulation will trickle down to the blog sites that post their links on social media. If they want their content on Facebook, anonymous bloggers will have to put up their names instead of their handles.

Bloggers that oppose certain parties will be out in the open and libel suits could soar. Libel is an exception to free speech. So yes, social media will be less crowded and without social media, blog sites will have to find other ways to spread their content. The number of fake news could drop because no one will be brave enough to post fake news unless they identify their site as home for satire or made-up news. The number of opinionated folks could drop as well unless they effectively can cite what affects them. They could get called out by name, harassed and bullied if they turn out to be wrong.

So yes, the regulation of social media could make us lose that one facet of the internet that allows everyone to become opinionated. People are brave to speak out because they are somewhat hidden. Social media allows their opinions to spread out much more than search engine results alone. Do we really want that to happen? But if we are to work in an effective democracy, we need to be properly informed, and we can’t do that with fake news and biased propaganda causing chaos and turning us against each other. It boils down to that question again. Freedom or regulation?

If you want regulation, we would have to believe in the regulators who could likely be the ruling party. They have control over what is truth or fact. Who watches the watchers right? If you want freedom, we would only have ourselves to rely on to filter out the facts. Don’t believe everything you read, don’t believe everything you see on TV and don’t go believing everything you get on social media. We will have to be more responsible before sharing something and do some research first. Now, who has the time for that?