Neil Richards, the Thomas and Karole Green Professor of Law
Social media is having its difficult adolescence. Facebook is approaching its 14th birthday, YouTube is 13, and Twitter is almost 12. In each case, a happy childhood has been replaced by awkward teen or tween years. In recent weeks, each of these companies has suffered embarrassing setbacks.
We need new laws in this area, to ensure the relationships between companies and the public can be built on a foundation of trust — laws that respect the people who use these services as consumers and citizens. This is not to say that we should act as heavy-handed censors; such an approach would be unwise and unconstitutional, and social media companies already employ thousands of censors called “content moderators.”
What we need instead is to shine the light of publicity on the business practices of social media companies, to better understand how our ability to express ourselves in the digital age is mediated by a few powerful companies whose actions are largely unchecked by law.
We should try to develop a kind of consumer protection law for the digital age — baseline rules designed to protect people from offensive invasions of privacy and the mostly unchecked power of social media companies. We need laws for the free expression issues of the information age.
Silicon Valley long has touted the virtues of “disruptive innovation.” In their adolescence, social media companies are facing the consequences of some of their disruption — consequences that we are facing with them. It is time to produce reasonable legal rules that nudge these platforms into responsible adulthood.
Read the full piece in The Hill.