Information technology was once heralded as a tool for democratic progress. However, now we know that online platforms empower dictatorships and authoritarian regimes to control people and suppress free speech. Social media companies are censoring content and suppressing voices of dissidents.
Research Analyst The Brookings Institution
Information Technology has disrupted democracy. Terrorists, Authoritarian Governments, and Foreign Adversaries have weaponized the Internet.
Russia’s online influence campaign during 2016 US Presidential Election was very effective. Bad actors were able to leverage platform technologies to pursue interests. Cambridge Analytica’s misdeeds were exposed. Facebook’s failure to monitor information collected by third-parties and prevent its misuse was revealed.
Technology companies are concerned about how their algorithms affect people. Their algorithms are designed to keep users scrolling, watching, etc. for as long as possible, but sometimes these algorithms end up showing content that entertains or shocks them.
Online platforms exacerbate political tensions by amplifying existing political tensions and spawning new political vulnerabilities. Large tech companies have failed to invest in protecting their platforms from abuse.
Big Tech has become a major problem for the United States. There is an investigation into the matter going on right now. We need to pass new laws to stop these big tech companies from doing what they do.
Governments around the world agree that the current structure of the internet gives rise to disinformation and its spread online. They believe that the structural design of these platforms pose an inherent threat to democracy, and they want to regulate them.
Today’s powerful technologies, they say, have coarsened our public discourse by satisfying our appetite for political tribalism. We get information true or false that agrees with our ideology. They believe the ways we use social media present a serious political threat to new democracies and old ones alike.
While lawmakers in the US are beginning to criticize the ways in which online companies have failed to police their technology, there is still a reluctance to respond to digital economies’ negative side effects by establishing rules to regulate the flow of data and classify certain content as unacceptable. Many people believe this would violate first amendment rights.
Europe takes action to protect user’s online privacy by passing the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Meanwhile, the United States doesn’t pass any new legislation regarding online privacy.
Americans embrace a different concept and culture than Europeans. Privacy is important to them, but they also want to be safe online. They want to protect themselves from state interference and companies from red tape, but they also want the freedom to do what they want online.
Data monopolies are becoming more common. Lawmakers want to make sure that these monopolies do not become too powerful.
The consumer welfare framework with its emphasis on price control has long guided American antitrust policy. However, the emerging international approach emphasizes the importance of promoting innovation and competition. Antitrust authorities are considering updating their policies to reflect these changes.
The United States government should focus on protecting users’ privacy and ensuring competition in the digital economy. The government should also be careful about regulating social media companies.
Facebook ads are becoming more powerful than other forms of advertising. Companies are using this platform to target consumers with unprecedented accuracy. Over 12 years, Facebook has become an important source of revenue for many businesses.
Digital advertising has enabled companies to sell everything from designer clothing to grocery stores to reach potential customers. But online platforms have also provided a mechanism for political campaigns, PACs, and private citizens with an agenda to target voters. Unlike traditional political advertisements, online political advertisements face very few restrictions. This omission has allowed malicious actors to leverage the power online platforms to individually curating to each voter’s ideological preferences and biases. There is little oversight of the ads run online platforms. Facebook’s algorithm, among other things, once allowed advertisers to specifically target users interested in “How to burn Jews.” Between June 2015 and May 2016, the Russian Internet Research Agency was able buy roughly 3,000 Facebook ads meant to sow division and discord during a highly contentious presidential election and political transition.
In testimony to the Senate Committee, Colin Stretch, Facebook’s General Counsel at the time estimated that ads linked to the IRA’s fake accounts reached approximately 126 Million Facebook users, none of them knowing their source. After Moscow’s successful online influence campaign in 2017, some social media sites tried to introduce new requirements for those trying buy online political advertisements. This effort at self regulation has produced unsatisfactory results. During the 2018 midterm elections, those who paid for political advertising on Facebook could remain anonymous despite the social network’s requirement that purchasers verify their identity.
Online advertising platforms should be required to disclose information about who pays for ads and what issues they cover. This data should be available to the public.