How social networks can neutralize trolls

Both sides agree that government regulations could be the fix for what ails social media platforms.

How social networks can neutralize trolls

Dan Patterson, a Senior Producer for CBS News and CNET, interviewed Brian McCullough, host of the daily Techmeme Ride Home podcast, about how regulations may make the internet better and safer. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Brian McCullough: Is it a solution? It's a solution for them, and that's why I think it's a problem, because if you look at it from Facebook's point of view--Facebook being the stand-in for any of these platforms at this point--they've been catching a lot of grief from people. Can you believe these horrible things are on your platform? Facebook doesn't want to be in the business of curating. They don't want to be in the business of editorializing. This is a solution for them that washes their hands of the problem.

If social media evolves into these private encrypted groups, then all of the bad stuff that Facebook is currently catching grief for will continue to happen unfettered, and Facebook can rightfully say, 'Well, we don't know what goes on. It's encrypted from us, too.' I think that while it is a solution for Facebook, I actually think it might be a worse solution for society, if that is what social media does evolve into.

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Dan Patterson: The government has proposed regulation to solve all of these problems. On the right, conservatives say, 'Hey, there's been all this censorship happening. We need to break these companies up.' Democrats running for president say, 'Big tech is not in your best interest. We need to break these companies up.' Is regulation the answer?

Brian McCullough: Isn't it interesting to you that both sides agree on [social media platform regulation]? Can you think of any other topic in our modern life that both sides of the political debate in this country can agree on? They might agree that tech is too powerful and should be broken up for different reasons. The question would be, what is the ill that you want to fix? If it is bad ideas being disseminated, if it is fake news, then again, you can put into place--it's not like we've suddenly forgotten how to have editors and how to have curation and how to have things like that. It just requires actual manpower. 'Hey, by the way, that could be a good paying job.' Another way for tech to create jobs, so that's a possible solution. 

The other could be, if you look at it from a different perspective--and I think this is more what the left is looking at it as--is it's also a problem of too much power concentrated in these huge social platforms. And then, it's a question of, is the power preventing these platforms from changing the way that they do things, because they're insulated from competition? What would the world look like today if Facebook had not been allowed to buy Instagram? Or WhatsApp?

In a way, you could say that Instagram and WhatsApp are basically keeping Facebook afloat. If they were forced to compete today with an independent Instagram and WhatsApp, I'm not sure that they would be thought of as a very successful company, but they were able to purchase their way out of trouble, as it were, by gobbling up competitors. 

You see that all the major tech platforms do this: Apple, Google, Amazon included, so you could solve the problem by saying, it's not that you can only grow so big; it's that, we have to stop companies from growing so big by making themselves immune and kneecapping any competition that comes around, because what the next generation of competition could be [is] a social network that values privacy, that that's their way of differentiating or some new messaging platform that only allows sharing of good things--however they would do that--but says we are a curated messaging platform, and we only want to give good things to you. 

As the way things exist now, as soon as a company differentiates and reaches success, they get gobbled up by one of the big tech platforms and just become another feature set in their utility belt. Because that is what's been allowed to happen for the last 10 years, these companies haven't been forced by the market and competition to change the way they do business.

I think that that is also something that needs to be considered--is that you can create better market outcomes via regulation.

Watch more interviews with Dan Patterson and Brian McCullough

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