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Who regulates social media?

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Social media platforms have repeatedly found themselves in the United States government’s crosshairs over the last few years, as it has been progressively revealed just how much power they really wield, and to what purposes they’ve chosen to wield it. But unlike, say, a firearm or drug manufacturer, there is no designated authority who says what these platforms can and can’t do. So who regulates them? You might say everyone and no one.

Now, it must be made clear at the outset that these companies are by no means “unregulated,” in that no legal business in this country is unregulated. For instance Facebook, certainly a social media company, received a record $5 billion fine last year for failure to comply with rules set by the FTC. But not because the company violated its social media regulations — there aren’t any.

Facebook and others are bound by the same rules that most companies must follow, such as generally agreed-upon definitions of fair business practices, truth in advertising, and so on. But industries like medicine, energy, alcohol, and automotive have additional rules, indeed entire agencies, specific to them; Not so social media companies.

I say “social media” rather than “tech” because the latter is much too broad a concept to have a single regulator. Although Google and Amazon (and Airbnb, and Uber, and so on) need new regulation as well, they may require a different specialist, like an algorithmic accountability office or online retail antitrust commission. (Inasmuch as tech companies act within regulated industries, such as Google in broadband, they are already regulated as such.)

Social media can roughly defined as platforms where people sign up to communicate and share messages and media, and that’s quite broad enough already without adding in things like ad marketplaces, competition quashing and other serious issues.

Who, then, regulates these social media companies? For the purposes of the U.S., there are four main directions from which meaningful limitations or policing may emerge, but each one has serious limitations, and none was actually created for the task.

1. Federal regulators

Image Credits: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission are what people tend to think of when “social media” and “regulation” are used in a sentence together. But one is a specialist — not the right kind, unfortunately — and the other a generalist.

The FCC, unsurprisingly, is primarily concerned with communication, but due to the laws that created it and grant it authority, it has almost no authority over what is being communicated. The sabotage of net neutrality has complicated this somewhat, but even the faction of the Commission dedicated to the backwards stance adopted during this administration has not argued that the messages and media you post are subject to their authority. They have indeed called for regulation of social media and big tech — but are for the most part unwilling and unable to do so themselves.

The Commission’s mandate is explicitly the cultivation of a robust and equitable communications infrastructure, which these days primarily means fixed and mobile broadband (though increasingly satellite services as well). The applications and businesses that use that broadband, though they may be affected by the FCC’s decisions, are generally speaking none of the agency’s business, and it has repeatedly said so.

The only potentially relevant exception is the much-discussed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (an amendment to the sprawling Communications Act), which waives liability for companies when illegal content is posted to their platforms, as long as those companies make a “good faith” effort to remove it in accordance with the law.

But this part of the law doesn’t actually grant the FCC authority over those companies or define good faith, and there’s an enormous risk of stepping into unconstitutional territory, because a government agency telling a company what content it must keep up or take down runs full speed into the First Amendment. That’s why although many think Section 230 ought to be revisited, few take Trump’s feeble executive actions along these lines seriously.

The agency did announce that it will be reviewing the prevailing interpretation of Section 230, but until there is some kind of established statutory authority or Congress-mandated mission for the FCC to look into social media companies, it simply can’t.

The FTC is a different story. As watchdog over business practices at large, it has a similar responsibility towards Twitter as it does towards Nabisco. It doesn’t have rules about what a social media company can or can’t do any more than it has rules about how many flavors of Cheez-It there should be. (There are industry-specific “guidelines” but these are more advisory about how general rules have been interpreted.)

On the other hand, the FTC is very much the force that comes into play should Facebook misrepresent how it shares user data, or Nabisco overstate the amount of real cheese in its crackers. The agency’s most relevant responsibility to the social media world is that of enforcing the truthfulness of material claims.

You can thank the FTC for the now-familiar, carefully worded statements that avoid any real claims or responsibilities: “We take security very seriously” and “we think we have the best method” and that sort of thing — so pretty much everything that Mark Zuckerberg says. Companies and executives are trained to do this to avoid tangling with the FTC: “Taking security seriously” isn’t enforceable, but saying “user data is never shared” certainly is.

In some cases this can still have an effect, as in the $5 billion fine recently dropped into Facebook’s lap (though for many reasons that was actually not very consequential). It’s important to understand that the fine was for breaking binding promises the company had made — not for violating some kind of social-media-specific regulations, because again, there really aren’t any.

The last point worth noting is that the FTC is a reactive agency. Although it certainly has guidelines on the limits of legal behavior, it doesn’t have rules that when violated result in a statutory fine or charges. Instead, complaints filter up through its many reporting systems and it builds a case against a company, often with the help of the Justice Department. That makes it slow to respond compared with the lightning-fast tech industry, and the companies or victims involved may have moved beyond the point of crisis while a complaint is being formalized there. Equifax’s historic breach and minimal consequences are an instructive case:

So: While the FCC and FTC do provide important guardrails for the social media industry, it would not be accurate to say they are its regulators.

2. State legislators

States are increasingly battlegrounds for the frontiers of tech, including social media companies. This is likely due to frustration with partisan gridlock in Congress that has left serious problems unaddressed for years or decades. Two good examples of states that lost their patience are California’s new privacy rules and Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) was arguably born out the ashes of other attempts at a national level to make companies more transparent about their data collection policies, like the ill-fated Broadband Privacy Act.

Californian officials decided that if the feds weren’t going to step up, there was no reason the state shouldn’t at least look after its own. By convention, state laws that offer consumer protections are generally given priority over weaker federal laws — this is so a state isn’t prohibited from taking measures for their citizens’ safety while the slower machinery of Congress grinds along.

The resulting law, very briefly stated, creates formal requirements for disclosures of data collection, methods for opting out of them, and also grants authority for enforcing those laws. The rules may seem like common sense when you read them, but they’re pretty far out there compared to the relative freedom tech and social media companies enjoyed previously. Unsurprisingly, they have vocally opposed the CCPA.

BIPA has a somewhat similar origin, in that a particularly far-sighted state legislature created a set of rules in 2008 limiting companies’ collection and use of biometric data like fingerprints and facial recognition. It has proven to be a huge thorn in the side of Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and others that have taken for granted the ability to analyze a user’s biological metrics and use them for pretty much whatever they want.

Many lawsuits have been filed alleging violations of BIPA, and while few have produced notable punishments like this one, they have been invaluable in forcing the companies to admit on the record exactly what they’re doing, and how. Sometimes it’s quite surprising! The optics are terrible, and tech companies have lobbied (fortunately, with little success) to have the law replaced or weakened.

What’s crucially important about both of these laws is that they force companies to, in essence, choose between universally meeting a new, higher standard for something like privacy, or establishing a tiered system whereby some users get more privacy than others. The thing about the latter choice is that once people learn that users in Illinois and California are getting “special treatment,” they start asking why Mainers or Puerto Ricans aren’t getting it as well.

In this way state laws exert outsize influence, forcing companies to make changes nationally or globally because of decisions that technically only apply to a small subset of their users. You may think of these states as being activists (especially if their attorneys general are proactive), or simply ahead of the curve, but either way they are making their mark.

This is not ideal, however, because taken to the extreme, it produces a patchwork of state laws created by local authorities that may conflict with one another or embody different priorities. That, at least, is the doomsday scenario predicted almost universally by companies in a position to lose out.

State laws act as a test bed for new policies, but tend to only emerge when movement at the federal level is too slow. Although they may hit the bullseye now and again, like with BIPA, it would be unwise to rely on a single state or any combination among them to miraculously produce, like so many simian legislators banging on typewriters, a comprehensive regulatory structure for social media. Unfortunately, that leads us to Congress.

3. Congress

Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

What can be said about the ineffectiveness of Congress that has not already been said, again and again? Even in the best of times few would trust these people to establish reasonable, clear rules that reflect reality. Congress simply is not the right tool for the job, because of its stubborn and willful ignorance on almost all issues of technology and social media, its countless conflicts of interest, and its painful sluggishness — sorry, deliberation — in actually writing and passing any bills, let alone good ones.

Companies oppose state laws like the CCPA while calling for national rules because they know that it will take forever and there’s more opportunity to get their finger in the pie before it’s baked. National rules, in addition to coming far too late, are much more likely also be watered down and riddled with loopholes by industry lobbyists. (This is indicative of the influence these companies wield over their own regulation, but it’s hardly official.)

But Congress isn’t a total loss. In moments of clarity it has established expert agencies like those in the first item, which have Congressional oversight but are otherwise independent, empowered to make rules, and kept technically — if somewhat limply — nonpartisan.

Unfortunately, the question of social media regulation is too recent for Congress to have empowered a specialist agency to address it. Social media companies don’t fit neatly into any of the categories that existing specialists regulate, something that is plainly evident by the present attempt to stretch Section 230 beyond the breaking point just to put someone on the beat.

Laws at the federal level are not to be relied on for regulation of this fast-moving industry, as the current state of things shows more than adequately. And until a dedicated expert agency or something like it is formed, it’s unlikely that anything spawned on Capitol Hill will do much to hold back the Facebooks of the world.

4. European regulators

eu gdpr 1Of course, however central it considers itself to be, the U.S. is only a part of a global ecosystem of various and shifting priorities, leaders, and legal systems. But in a sort of inside-out version of state laws punching above their weight, laws that affect a huge part of the world except the U.S. can still have a major effect on how companies operate here.

The most obvious example is the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR, a set of rules, or rather augmentation of existing rules dating to 1995, that has begun to change the way some social media companies do business.

But this is only the latest step in a fantastically complex, decades-long process that must harmonize the national laws and needs of the E.U. member states in order to provide the clout it needs to compel adherence to the international rules. Red tape seldom bothers tech companies, which rely on bottomless pockets to plow through or in-born agility to dance away.

Although the tortoise may eventually in this case overtake the hare in some ways, at present the GDPR’s primary hindrance is not merely the complexity of its rules, but the lack of decisive enforcement of them. Each country’s Data Protection Agency acts as a node in a network that must reach consensus in order to bring the hammer down, a process that grinds slow and exceedingly fine.

When the blow finally lands, though, it may be a heavy one, outlawing entire practices at an industry-wide level rather than simply extracting pecuniary penalties these immensely rich entities can shrug off. There is space for optimism as cases escalate and involve heavy hitters like antitrust laws in efforts that grow to encompass the entire “big tech” ecosystem.

The rich tapestry of European regulations is really too complex of a topic to address here in the detail it deserves, and also reaches beyond the question of who exactly regulates social media. Europe’s role in that question of, if you will, speaking slowly and carrying a big stick promises to produce results on a grand scale, but for the purposes of this article it cannot really be considered an effective policing body.

(TechCrunch’s E.U. regulatory maven Natasha Lomas contributed to this section.)

5. No one? Really?

As you can see, the regulatory ecosystem in which social media swims is more or less free of predators. The most dangerous are the small, agile ones — state legislatures — that can take a bite before the platforms have had a chance to brace for it. The other regulators are either too slow, too compromised, or too involved (or some combination of the three) to pose a real threat. For this reason it may be necessary to introduce a new, but familiar, species: the expert agency.

As noted above, the FCC is the most familiar example of one of these, though its role is so fragmented that one could be forgiven for forgetting that it was originally created to ensure the integrity of the telephone and telegraph system. Why, then, is it the expert agency for orbital debris? That’s a story for another time.

Capitol building

Image Credit: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

What is clearly needed is the establishment of an independent expert agency or commission in the U.S., at the federal level, that has statutory authority to create and enforce rules pertaining to the handling of consumer data by social media platforms.

Like the FCC (and somewhat like the E.U.’s DPAs), this should be officially nonpartisan — though like the FCC it will almost certainly vacillate in its allegiance — and should have specific mandates on what it can and can’t do. For instance, it would be improper and unconstitutional for such an agency to say this or that topic of speech should be disallowed from Facebook or Twitter. But it would be able to say that companies need to have a reasonable and accessible definition of the speech they forbid, and likewise a process for auditing and contesting takedowns. (The details of how such an agency would be formed and shaped is well beyond the scope of this article.)

Even the likes of the FAA lags behind industry changes, such as the upsurge in drones that necessitated a hasty revisit of existing rules, or the huge increase in commercial space launches. But that’s a feature, not a bug. These agencies are designed not to act unilaterally based on the wisdom and experience of their leaders, but are required to perform or solicit research, consult with the public and industry alike, and create evidence-based policies involving, or at least addressing, a minimum of sufficiently objective data.

Sure, that didn’t really work with net neutrality, but I think you’ll find that industries have been unwilling to capitalize on this temporary abdication of authority by the FCC because they see that the Commission’s current makeup is fighting a losing battle against voluminous evidence, public opinion, and common sense. They see the writing on the wall and understand that under this system it can no longer be ignored.

With an analogous authority for social media, the evidence could be made public, the intentions for regulation plain, and the shareholders — that is to say, users — could make their opinions known in a public forum that isn’t owned and operated by the very companies they aim to rein in.

Without such an authority these companies and their activities — the scope of which we have only the faintest clue to — will remain in a blissful limbo, picking and choosing by which rules to abide and against which to fulminate and lobby. We must help them decide, and weigh our own priorities against theirs. They have already abused the naive trust of their users across the globe — perhaps it’s time we asked them to trust us for once.

Source:- TechCrunch

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Anti-mask fringe movement getting more media coverage than warranted: expert – Montreal Gazette

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Article content continued

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Reddit have enabled once-marginal movements to reach audiences numbering in the millions, he said.

The study surveyed 27,615 Canadians on where they got their news and on their attitudes toward COVID-19.

It also looked at how anti-intellectualism — the generalized distrust of experts and intellectuals — influences attitudes on the risk of contracting COVID-19 and prevention measures like mask-wearing and physical distancing .

Mainstream media are also contributing to the increased visibility of anti-mask groups, Bridgman said. One reason is that media constantly seek another side of every story as a means of advancing the news, he said.

For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, when health authorities around the world were counselling against the general public wearing masks, mainstream media outlets did reports suggesting masks could help prevent the spread of the virus. When governments switched course and called on citizens to don masks, the media raised questions about how effective mask-wearing was, Bridgman said.

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4 ways to respond to vaccine skeptics on social media – The Next Web

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For most of the 20th century, more than 60,000 people died in the US from polio, diphtheria, and small pox each year. In 2016, the American death toll from these diseases was zero. Around the globe, two to three million deaths from these diseases and others, including measles, rubella, and tetanus, are prevented each year.

These remarkable statistics are a triumph of medicine and the single most effective public health measure in history: global vaccination programs.

COVID-19, after the most rapid and sustained vaccine development program in history, now looks set to be joining this list of fatal diseases that can be easily prevented with a jab or two. The disease that has killed an estimated 1.3 million people (and rising), may have had its day. Sadly, there’s a lot of misinformation surrounding vaccinations, threatening the success of inoculation programmes.

So what can you do to protect yourself against misinformation and challenge it in conversation with others?

1. Understand who you are talking to

Let’s not forget that the majority of people are happy to receive a COVID-19 vaccine (64%, according to a recent study). Only a small minority (9%) have no intention of getting vaccinated. If you enter into a debate about vaccination it may well be with someone who falls into this latter group. You are very unlikely to change the minds of these vaccine refusers, so the main audience for your arguments is actually the rest of any onlooking group – and particularly the 27% who are hesitant about vaccination.

[Read: Why this security engineer loves working in infosec]

The point of your discussion is to empower the members of the audience with knowledge and arguments. To do so, it’s important to find common ground and “bond” with whoever you are talking to, rather than just lecturing them.

2. Inoculate against misinformation

There are numerous examples of misinformation “sticking” in our individual and social memories, despite repeated attempts to dislodge it – such as the false “fact” that humans have just five senses. Rather than fighting false facts, the better option is to enable people to spot misinformation before it percolates through society and becomes “endemic” as accepted truth.

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The Debunking Handbook 2020 advocates triggering a mental “immune response” to fake news. To do so we need pre-emptive exposure to weakened versions of the manipulative strategies used by peddlers of false facts. In so doing we can inoculate against, or “prebunk,” the misinformation.

For example, once you realize that some social media users, publications and other bodies can have hidden agendas and may therefore misrepresent studies and cherry-pick information, you are better placed to assess the facts for yourself. Indeed, the tobacco and oil industries rolled out “fake experts” to create doubt that smoking causes cancers and CO₂ emissions affect our climate, respectively.

In my opinion, the excellent BBC Radio 4 program “More or Less” is a particularly good mental vaccine against misinformation.

3. Debunk efficiently

In the midst of a debate it is probably too late to deploy any prebunking tactics. But be careful about launching into a myth-busting monologue. Simply repeating untruths risks making them stick in our memories, so instead focus your talking points on the positive outcomes of vaccinations (like the facts at the top of this article). Don’t be the first person to mention the myth.

Imagine of an international certificate of vaccination.
Measles is on the rise due to vaccine misinformation. Zerbor/Shutterstock

But if in the course of the conversation some misinformation does get a mention you will need to call it out. Let’s imagine you are in the midst of a debate about COVID-19 and someone makes the claim that the 5G network is the real cause of the disease. The key to getting this debunking right is limiting how often the lie gets a mention and making the truth more sticky than the myth. Here’s how to go about it.

a) Start by stating the truth in a clear, concise way. Don’t launch into a long explanation, instead imagine you are writing a headline.

COVID-19 is spread in droplets generated when people exhale, particularly when they cough, sneeze, or shout.

b) Point out the misinformation, and be clear that it is a myth.

The mobile network is basically a series of radio transmitters, and viruses can’t travel by radio waves.

c) Explain why the myth is wrong. You might point out some science that refutes the myth, and call out the flaws in the argument.

Besides, the COVID-19 virus has spread throughout countries, like Iran for example, that have no 5G network.

d) Restate the facts.

4. Think beyond facts

That said, facts alone will only go so far. The words we use are also important, they conjure up imagery that affect our response to the information we are being presented with. Consider “herds” and “communities”. Which of these would you like to be part of? Most people would say “communities.” So if you’re encouraging someone to get vaccinated, you may want to talk about their contribution to community immunity, rather than herd immunity.

Another important technique is storytelling, which can be much more effective than facts. Stories link cause and effect, making the conclusions that you want to present seem almost inevitable. For example, you may want to tell anti-vaxxers about a relative whose life was saved by a vaccine at a time when it wasn’t available to everyone.

Or you may, like the UK’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van Tam, want to stress that you have encouraged your own mother to take the vaccine, rather than just saying the elderly should take it.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation by Mark Lorch, Professor of Science Communication and Chemistry, University of Hull under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Tokyo 2020 organisers estimate Games postponement cost $1.9 billion: media – Cape Breton Post

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TOKYO (Reuters) – This year’s postponement of the Tokyo Olympics because of the novel coronavirus cost about 200 billion yen ($1.9 billion), organisers have estimated, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Sunday, citing people involved with the event.

The International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government were forced to put off the Games for a year in March as the coronavirus spread rapidly around the world.

The Games cost 1.35 trillion yen ($13 billion) before the postponement, the newspaper reported.

The organising committee will decide on a breakdown of the burden of the delay in December, after discussions between the committee, the Tokyo metropolitan government and the central government, the newspaper said.

A spokesman for the organisers, asked about the report, told Reuters by text message only that the committee is examining the extra costs associated with the delay.

The postponement costs include payment to staff as well as the introduction of new systems for refunding tickets but do not include measures against the spread of the coronavirus, the newspaper said.

The organisers had originally estimated that the delay would cost nearly 300 billion yen but they were able to reduce that figure by simplifying some events, the report said.

(Reporting by Junko Fujita; Editing by Robert Birsel and William Mallard)

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