David Snyder, the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, is asking Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to take responsibility for their content in the era of fake news, in the same way that newspapers and broadcasters have in the past.
“One of the things that social media platforms are now reckoning with is that they are being held responsible or being asked to be responsible for their content,” Snyder said at a panel Friday on the First Amendment in the Age of Trump sponsored by TheWrap in Mountain View, California. “Newspapers and broadcasters and journalism platforms have always been responsible for their content, and government getting their nose in that business is a bad thing, almost universally and uniformly.”
He added, “[Social media platforms] have always taken the position that that’s all they are. They’re only platforms and anyone can say anything they want under any circumstances with some exceptions. ‘We’re not getting in the business of regulating you.’ And I think for the promotion of free speech and a broad range of ideas, it’s terrific. We are now exposed to a range of opinions and ideas that would’ve been unimaginable to someone 30 years ago.”
However, the lack of regulation also comes with its problems. According to Snyder, it leads to conspiracy theories and hate speech. Of course, the sharing of fake news has become a major problem on the web, which led to Sen. Dianne Feinstein and members of Congress weighing in on the situation on Wednesday, warning the tech industry that if they didn’t deal with the problem, the government would.
“You have a problem on your hands, and the U.S. is going to be the first of the countries to bring it to your attention, and other countries are going to follow, I’m sure,” Sen. Feinstein said to heads of Google, Facebook and Twitter on Capitol Hill. “Because you bear this responsibility. You created these platforms, and now they’re being misused. And you have to be the ones who do something about it — or we will.”
Snyder directly addressed social media platforms and said: “You need to stop acting like you are just a stage, you’re managing that stage and you’re making a lot of money off it, now do it right.”
TheWrap’s CEO and Editor in Chief Sharon Waxman said in her opening remarks, “The revolution in communication driven by technology has created unprecedented access to free speech, and an unprecedented ability for bad actors to manipulate that speech.”
For example, since the 2016 election, Facebook has been buffeted by a series of nasty revelations showing how Russian operatives used the platform in an attempt to influence the outcome in several key swing states.
It has to be said that some social media platforms are trying to mitigate the spreading of fake news: Last month, Facebook announced that it was testing a new feature to help its more than one billion users become smarter news consumers.
Gene Policinski, COO of Newseum Institute, and Susan Seager, First Amendment columnist at TheWrap, joined Waxman at the Computer History Museum on Friday night. Other subjects explored at the event included the role of tech platforms in confronting fake news, the consequences of fake news, and the White House’s assault on journalists.
One key conversation topic was the election of Donald Trump. Waxman said in her opening remarks that, “ever since the election of Donald Trump almost exactly one year ago, a new era has dawned in which the First Amendment has been under fire, under challenge and – in the view of many – at risk.” And Snyder agreed with her.
“There’s a very direct threat to free press… He sets a very dangerous tone at the top,” Snyder said, while Policinski added, “Government is a terrible mechanism to regulate speech.”
Watch the clip video above of David Snyder or the panel discussion in its entirety below.