Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat have taken steps to suspend President Donald Trump’s account and made decisions by Google and Amazon to close Parler. This raises questions about the power and future of social media. Below are excerpts of the interview with Cliff Lampe, University of Michigan Professor of Information.
Do You think that the actions of Twitter and others on President Trump’s account are isolated to him or people with questionable content?
Lampe I don’t think it’s just him. Twitter has shut down at least hundreds, if not thousands, of accounts…
They have a mission to clean up the site. This is an indication of what’s to come.
None of the major platforms wants to be called the home of extremism…
Many conservatives are mad at it, but Twitter is making a calculation that says, “Look, we can’t become the place people go to be angry.” Right. This is not a good place for your long-term health.
Are you sure they did it because they believe it was the right thing?
Lampe They don’t seem to be that concerned about the government being on them back. The government has not been able to regulate tech in any form across many administrations over the past 20 years. There hasn’t been any legislation meaningfully affecting the tech industry since 1996. I don’t think they are worried about what the new Congress will do.
It’s not clear to me that they are doing it because they believe it’s the right thing to. They just want to maintain civil society. They are making it as a business decision. They see it as a way to increase short-term sales, but their long-term health depends on being able to afford a fair platform.
Do You believe the Internet is now in need of strict regulation?
Lampe I’m not sure what you mean by regulation. Lawrence Lessig wrote “Code 2.0”, a classic book that discusses how difficult it is for East Coast law or code to regulate tech. We’ve seen this time and again.
The mass media industry is regulated by many laws. We should probably start to think about what laws would be appropriate for the internet, such as universal access laws and safe harbor laws. Privacy, copyright, and other laws that impact the internet are in place. Speech on the internet can still be subject to harassment and incitement. It will be interesting to consider what regulations might apply to social media.
Why is there no FCC to regulate internet?
Lampe It was long thought that we didn’t because it was too small a portion of the media to regulate and then it was deemed to have deleterious business effects. It’s also a global problem, and the FCC has the same problem. You know, we could consider different agencies that regulate the internet in different ways.
You also know that they may regulate the internet in some cases. Net neutrality was a great example.
You have probably been reading some chatter. You’re probably wondering what people are missing, or what do you believe is the most important thing from recent social media actions.
Lampe The most important thing people need to know is that these companies are powerful but not all powerful. It is okay to leave Facebook or Twitter and move on to other sites. There are many social media platforms that offer the opportunity to interact in many different ways.
You shouldn’t feel that the company holds all the power. However, there are still many benefits people can get from these. Participation in social media has a lot to offer us. We also have to be mindful of not adding to the noise or clutter.
Do you think the fallout of the riots and insurrection might cause some people to look in the mirror, be more calm and not post as much provocative material? Is there any impact on the behavior of all these people?
Lampe I believe there is a portion of people who will feel the riots and change their behavior. However, there is a smaller percentage of people who will not. It’s one of those things that once we have our ideas, it’s hard to change.
There is so much misinformation, that the QAnon conspiracy theory has now grown and moved into a new phase. We have full-on QAnon now and conspiracy theorists who have been elected as members of the House of Representatives. It’s gonna be very difficult to deal with the information that is still being spread online.
It’s more than just social media. It’s basically the combination of social media with the wider availability of the internet to make any website look real. We’ve been telling people for 50 years that information literacy is about doing your own research and making your own decisions. Then we developed tools that let people post any information and made it appear like everything could be true.
Now, information literacy is being subverted in a way that people believe they are doing the right thing when they research and look up a topic. They’re actually falling further into misinformation holes as a result. It was our belief that more information is better. However, this was not true.It turns out that bad information is worse than no information.