When social media networks have become the primary vehicles to get the news out to the public, there is then an imminent need to regulate which information is deemed appropriate or otherwise. Governments should lead with the laws to ensure that any news that is regarded as detrimental to the safety and security of societies does not make it online.
The latest example of course are the social media campaigns by supporters of President Trump and which led to the fateful storming at the Capitol and loss of lives. Even though Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms banned the US president from using their networks, this can only be regarded as one step in the right direction.
If not now, when?
Only a legal framework that disallows the spread of smear campaigns and worse will herald a new era of stringent laws and – possible - self-regulation by digital media.
To some, banning Trump was an infringement on free speech. But many, including legal experts, argue that any item that can be detrimental to the welfare of a society should be legally sanctioned from an online presence. It is important to note that there is a fine line between free speech and regulating what is communicated to audiences around the world.
This issue is exceedingly difficult to untangle because social media is fundamentally different and, accordingly, conventional approaches to regulate digital platforms have failed.
Traditional broadcast news is defined by limited bandwidth, meaning that TV networks have a limited number of primetime windows. With infinite bandwidth, and millions of personal accounts, social media’s reach is significantly wider.
All traditional news content is controlled through editorial oversight. It is thus much easier for conventional news organizations to control what is shared through their platforms. In contrast, social media networks are conduits for self-generated content and more often than not with no management.
Finally, viewers or readers of traditional media can proactively choose what news they wish to watch, listen to or read. With social media platforms, it is much more difficult to control the content flow that come their way.
All the reason why much more should be done against harmful online content. This needs to be imminently tackled to limit their usage as conduits to harm.
- Ayad Nahas is a communications practitioner.