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Are We Entering a New Era of Social Media Regulation?

Hello, everyone! My name is Sara Ross, and I am one of the scholars of communication at the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship. My responsibilities include maintaining our social media pages, editing Kirby Center materials, and working with clients. On campus, I am the co-captain for our Wilkes University Women’s Cross Country team and serve as the director of Zebra Communications, the communication studies’ student-run public relations agency. I am also a member of the University’s Honors Program.

As a communication studies major and social media user, I have noticed the changes that have occurred in recent years on social media platforms, especially Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Many of the stories published about social media challenge the beliefs about whether governmental regulation over these platforms is required.

Last year, former President Donald Trump was banned from social media platforms after the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Not to mention, in Fall 2021, information came forth from a whistleblower that charged Instagram with showing harmful images to teenage girls. With these current events in mind, it is helpful to break down and come to understand the concept of user privacy.

How much privacy do we really have?

Of course, both of the aforementioned instances bring into question the privacy of social media users and whether or not these platforms should have access to large amounts of data concerning consumers. Many companies employ a strategy known as data mining; which works by tracking cookies when social media users go from one site to the next, collecting information on users to find patterns in their online interactions.

While data mining is helpful for advertisers and the companies who use this data for their campaigns, there are those who argue that the tactic is too invasive. When information is used to learn more about consumer habits, it is generally used to achieve profits. Naturally, this tactic benefits social media companies economically, too. Large companies, such as Facebook, have to make money to stay viable, but at what cost? If it comes at the expense of user safety, this business model may have to be reconsidered.

Other than economic means, social media platforms have become a key area, where consumer information is taken. The algorithms that are employed are meant to provide content to users that is helpful to them. However, there can be a tendency, as revealed by the Facebook whistleblower, that feeds can also affect user perception and negatively influence how people feel about themselves.

Further, not all advertisements and news stories shown on media platforms are truthful, which is why users need to evaluate what they see and read carefully. Propaganda on social media can be fraudulent and lead to misrepresentation. During the 2016 presidential election, there was an abundance of this type of content that ultimately shaped views and spread misinformation.

Overwhelmingly, there appears to be evidence that social media has a notably negative impact. As a result, social media platforms are being scrutinized and taking into concern regulations. But, what do those regulations look like? Self-governance may no longer be an option, even if companies like Facebook provide transparency reports on content removal. It becomes a matter of whether they are trustworthy or not. Still, is it an infringement on freedom of speech for the government to intervene with content moderation on social media? These are all areas to consider.

Regardless, there are positives to social media usage as well. It keeps us connected and informed about daily events. Its ease of access allows it to be right at our fingertips. But, eventually, when does the bad outweigh the good? The goal of regulating social media is to create incentives for social media companies to be responsible and trustworthy institutions that would foster a healthy digital public space. It may take time before any significant changes occur.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog! Hopefully, you gained insight into learning more about social media privacy and regulations, as this is a prevalent and current topic that affects us all.

- Sara

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