Twitter, Facebook, Free Speech and Business

Today, two top executives from Facebook and Twitter met with the Senate. I haven’t checked the news yet, but my guess is that they talked about how to prevent future intervention into American’s elections by a foreign entity using social media and how to stop fake news while preserving the First Amendment right.

First Amendment is a huge issue in the US. It is touted as the bedrock of the country’s democracy and society. The Amendment refers to one’s freedom to voice one’s opinion without restrictions. Though it may sound inherently logical and simple, it is much more complicated in reality. We deal with people of different perspectives every day. It’s almost impossible to please everyone with our opinion or action. On an individual level, it may not be a big problem, but in some businesses, it is. Enter Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter and Facebook are essentially crowd pleasers. They want as many to use their platforms and for as long as possible. A big user base will attract advertisers and their dollars. To attract and keep users, these platforms feed users what they want to see based on their previous activities on (and off?) their sites.

The problem they are facing now is that when someone exercises their 1st Amendment by posting some false information, should it be taken down or should it be left there? Take it down and users on the other extreme end of perspectives will accuse these platforms of abuse of power and oppression of free speech. Leave it there and other users will be angry about the so-called “fake news”. How can a piece of content be classified as “purely false information” or “legit but controversial information”? Even if such classification is possible, will the management team at these social media firms have the courage to take actions?

This is a big problem for social media platforms whose monetization model relies much on their popularity. But trying to be popular with everyone is causing them trouble. Executives have to spend hours in DC. Users aren’t pleased with their actions or lack thereof. Reputation is tarnished. Personally, I don’t see how this issue can be solved for Facebook or Twitter. I don’t think AI will be of much help in this case. Mentioning AI just shuts down the conversation and stops further questions.

 

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