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Great Debate: Should social media be regulated?

December 8, 2021

As technology continues to advance, social media platforms and the internet as a whole has become the center of American life. Almost every citizen in the United States has a cell phone glued to the palm of their hand, which has established a great deal of controversy in the country. It is clear that social media has a remarkable influence on the world. Whether it regards the way a politician campaigns, a business advertises, or the striking increase in suicide rates due to depression, eating disorders, and even disturbing games that have all disturbed the teenager and young adult population. The consequences of social media can be very beneficial or extremely detrimental, which is what John Tober, Brendan Olson, Maddy Weiss, Bella Solano debated in the community room on December 8th, 2021. Bella Solano and Maddy Weiss argued for the affirmative side, fighting that social media should be regulated, against Brendan Olson and John Tober, the negative side, who fought that social media should not be regulated.

Affirmative

Social media should filter the content on their site that could be harmful to our society. Social media is the main way false information is spread and without regulations, it is extremely detrimental to society. People make important decisions based on what they hear from social media, mainly because it is their only source of news, and with all of the false information being spread, their decision could be inaccurate and not a true representation of their beliefs or factual information as a whole.

Harvard Business Review states, “Social media spreads misinformation on elections, vaccines, and other public health matters.” Social media needs to ensure that the news people are posting is accurate and reliable, so that people can learn to educate themselves before establishing opinions on current events and politics. We are risking lives through dangerous games and trends that the internet advertises particularly towards young children and teenagers.

Challenges such as the tide pod challenge and salt and ice challenge influenced their followers into unintentionally harming themselves because they went unmonitored and unregulated. North Jersey.com reported that there were 39 poison control cases of people ages 13 to 19 in January of 2013 as a result of the Tide Pod Challenge, which involves kids ingesting tide pods. Another case of a harmful internet challenge was the Fire Challenge, where participants would pour flammable liquid, commonly isopropyl alcohol, onto their skin, then ignite themselves.

Gianne Gilpin, an 11 year old girl from St. Pete’s, became a victim to this challenge. She received 2nd degree burns all over her body and their home had also been destroyed in the fire. Without regulations for challenges such as these, we are putting lives in danger. It is also important to recognize that the youth is extremely active on social media and also the most easily influenced age group. They are extremely vulnerable and sensitive to what they see whilst scrolling on their phones and computers.

For that reason, social media should be regulated in order to protect the youth. Youth is the future of our nation, and we should be focusing on protecting them from the dangers of social media. According to the US National Library of Medicine, Of 719 individuals aged 14 to 24 years, 79% reported being exposed to suicide-related content.

Social media companies should be able to have the ability to prevent young, impressionable teens from seeing content that would encourage them to end their lives. We have all heard the heartbreaking stories about cyber bullying and its results that end in suicide. Regulations could have saved their lives. There is no evidence or argument that can disprove the idea that unregulated social media has led to self-harm and suicide. While it can be argued that social media cannot be fully blamed for one’s actions, it is evident that social media plays a fundamental role in the contribution to these harmful acts.

It is also unreasonable to argue that social media should not be regulated for the sole belief that a child’s actions are the responsibility of their parents. While a parent is responsible for their child, they cannot monitor every single action their child takes. They cannot control what influences their child and what media is presented to their child. That is simply the responsibility of social media companies.

Referring to the tide pod challenge that took over the internet, it is clear that the trend was the source of thousands of children harming themselves, not the parents. Social media was the source that influenced them into joining this trend, and thus if they have the power to influence they must hold the responsibility to monitor. Compare this situation to children at school. It is a known fact that while the child is at school, they are the school’s responsibility. What happens to the child at school, what the child learns or follows at school is the school’s responsibility, not the parent’s.

So, similarly, when a child is on social media, it is social media’s duty to protect the youth. Social media must be regulated in order to stop spreading false information, terminate the dangerous challenges, and protect the youth and the future.

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Opposition

American values depend on a marketplace of ideas where things such as civil controversy and debate can thrive free of any restriction.  In the case of our modern world, this said marketplace comes in the form of social media platforms that greatly help to project the very essence of liberty and democracy.

If the government/media enterprises were to have control over this vast sea of civilian ideas and discourse, the aspect of liberty is no more. Technology has improved massively over the past twenty years and society now has devices in their hands that can communicate with people all around the world. This only took place because individuals came up with this technology and sold it free from government intervention or regulation.

Not only does government regulation limit advancement, but it quite literally holds the implication of free speech itself. Media censorship also acts as a driving force to open the floodgates for corruption through the likes of monopolies and those seeking political bias. Why would we allow those who seek votes to control their own information displayed about them? There will no longer be two sides to any candidate, only the side they want you to hear.

The regulation of Social Media companies is a terrible and un-American idea. Mark Zuckerburg, the founder of Facebook, founded this multi-billion dollar company from the ground up as a sophomore in college by himself. He launched a product that now almost everyone in the country uses. Facebook is now making technology even easier to use and advancing technology for our world. This also employs thousands of American citizens and gives high paying jobs, which contributes to the economy. If we continue to allow Facebook and other social media companies to expand they will only employ more people and advance technology software to aid the entire world.

In comparison to other inventions such as the light bulb, even if the first power companies were regulated by the federal government it would have taken much longer for this technology to get into the homes of all Americans. The ideals of free speech are ideas that have been at the front and center of American Democracy. Allowing the government to control social media is a slippery slope, there is no guarantee it will lead to acts of total control.

Though regulation for the common good may seem harmless it gives the federal government way too much power. Cuba, for example, has recently had protests against the totalitarian government. Cuba shut down the internet so there is very limited media outside the country of Cuban current events because the government censored videos of the protests and their brutal and antidemocratic attempts to stop them.

If Facebook has to remove all harmful content the government deems is not acceptable, what will stop the President from using their power to enforce the law to force Facebook to take down speeches of their political opponents? What would stop a president from covering their past scandals or mistakes? If Richard Nixon had the ability to regulate what television and radio companies could report about Watergate, his scandals likely never would have come to light.

Corruption is present in any and all likes of government, allowing the government to control the media is the cornerstone of fascism and totalitarianism. While no one wants the youth to see harmful information online with no filter, true protection comes in the form of individual thought, not directed information decided by private entities.

In contrast to the claims of the affirmative side, the current restrictions must be in alignment with the first amendment. Regulation of social media platforms would violate the current government legislature as freedom of speech would not be upheld through the works of section 230 in the Constitution.

In fact, controlling what citizens see online is un-American and establishes a path to corruption, indoctrination, and is in no way in line with the American ideals citizens are promised.  These platforms make up the vast majority of free American speech that help to shape our nation, to enforce restrictions and censor certain information is not only unconstitutional, but anti liberty itself.

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