In an era of apparently undeniable Russian state sponsored interference in American and UK Elections social media companies like Facebook, Twitter & Google have been called to account for their part in the ‘attacks’. This begs the question, how much responsibility do internet and social media companies really have for blocking misinformation by primarily foreign entities?
In this video Bloomberg explores Keith Rabois’, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and PayPal Vice President, opinion that social media is just another form of communication and it should be expected that other countries will use it to make elections and other sensitive issues less clear.
Lets try to keep to the facts and keep emotion out of it (which we know is very hard for all of us). Here are the facts about Russian meddling, accurately laid out by Mr. Rabois:
- Social Media and web pages are not notably different from books, pamphlets and flyers
- Governments around the globe, including the United States, have used books, pamphlets and flyers have been used for centuries to provide misinformation to foreign populations
- The US has publicly known about Russian interference in US elections since before Mitt Romney brought it up in a Presidential debate against Barack Obama
- Barack Obama, laughed at Romney’s accusations and after he was elected officially declared Russia to be a friend of the United States
- “…the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years…”
- Officially, Russia is still on the US ‘friend’ list although clearly the tone has changed and Russia has not been removed because of the political issues that would cause
Beyond that it is also accurate to say:
- Current President Trump has repeatedly claimed that Russia either was not involved in meddling
- Current President Trump has repeatedly claimed that Russian meddling in US elections has had no meaningful effect
- We do not require book publishers to do anything more than avoid publishing hate. They can reprint all the lies and misinformation they want
- We do not require pamphlet an flyer printers to do any review at all
- We do not require TV channels and radio to do anything more than avoid promoting hate or making libelous statements (think about InfoWars!)
- We do not require newspapers and magazines to filter foreign advertising or do anything more than avoid promoting hate or making libelous statements
On its face we should expect all media and advertising mediums to avoid promoting false information but that is not the question here. The questions are:
How much due diligence can we expect from newspapers, book publishers, flyer printers, Google, Facebook and Twitter, to avoid misinformation?
Should publishers have legal liability when false information is promoted, even if it was through failed oversight rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead?
Should there be more regulation to reduce the promotion of foreign misinformation campaigns or are the current laws sufficient?
Should electronic media like Google, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram, Yahoo, and YouTube be in a special category and treated differently than books, pamphlets, flyers, TV, magazines, radio and other media?
The United States Government and all national governments around the world need to answer these four questions in the coming years.