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Who regulates social media?

  • Rating — 4.8 (4 votes)
  • by Ksenija Kolomiiets
  • Updated on October 27, 2020
  • Read —
    9-10 minutes

Social media has occasionally been the focus of regulatory and government attention in the United States. Investigations and attempts to tame social networks are continually emerging, since initially, no one imagined what kind of power they would have and how to use it. Unlike many healthcare industries, social media does not have a government or committee to regulate these companies.

You can try to answer this question, but we are unsure if the answer will be correct. We decided to understand this situation in more detail to support our customers further and, of course, create products for them that fully comply with government requirements.

Twitter, Facebook conduct their business according to the same rules as other companies. For example, the generally accepted definitions of fair business practice, truthfulness in advertising, and so on. But these are general rules, but many others still have industry-specific target rules – road design, house construction, and so on.

We are talking specifically about social media networks since Lift, Amazon, and others still need to regulate their activities. But an organ can be created for them, such as the Internet Retail Antitrust Commission. Yet these tech companies already have some regulatory bodies.

How are social networks regulated? There are four organizations in the USA that are trying to control their work. Still, the original purpose of creating these companies was different, and it is difficult for them to fulfill the function of a regulator.

#1 Federal regulators

Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission. The first organization was created specifically to monitor the quality of communication infrastructure, mostly associated with fixed and mobile broadband. And all this agency can influence enterprises and companies that use this connection, but such activity is not related to its primary activity.

Under section 230 of the Communications Integrity Act, the only thing is that which exempts companies from liability for posting illegal content on their platforms, provided that these companies take active steps to remove it under the law. But the FCC only based on this law has no right to tell the company what content can be posted and whatnot, since this is already a violation of the Constitution (First Amendment).

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Therefore, until Congress revises some of the articles of Law 230, the FCC has no right to interfere with social media.

As for the FTC, this regulator monitors business practices in general and not in a specific industry. The Commission cannot tell social networks how they work. Still, if Facebook distorts how user data is exchanged, sanctions can be applied here since this Commission is entrusted with ensuring material statements’ integrity.

It is thanks to the Federal Trade Commission that “user data is never transferred,” and the company knows that it is better to stick to the rules and not violate in any way because “safety comes first.”

We want to point out that the $ 5 billion fine imposed on Facebook was for violating the company’s binding promises. This fine does not apply to social media activities; any other company from another industry could receive the same penalty.

So: While the FCC and FTC do provide necessary fences for the social media industry, it would be wrong to say that they are its regulators.

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Executive addendum

Of course, a president is an important person at the federal level, like other executive bodies. Still, although they can influence the formation of the industry, they cannot do anything directly.

All of Trump’s orders regarding TikTok, for example, are more advisory. In other words, the president can recommend independent agencies to coordinate their activities with his administration, but no more. Everything could change if article 230 is revised.

The Department of Justice is not a regulator, but working with the Federal Trade Commission can still influence affairs. This is how these two organizations used to create an antitrust lawsuit against Google. This can hardly be considered official regulation.

#2 State Legislatures

Because Congress has been struggling to resolve issues in the area of ​​interest for many years, some states got tired of waiting and passed new rules on their own – the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).

The enacted laws provide formal requirements for disclosing information about the collection of data, methods of refusal, and powers to enforce these laws.

I want to say that the text of the first law sounds at first glance correct and adequate, but this should radically change the work of social networks in these regions. In this regard, tech companies and social media are opposed to the CCPA.

BIPA restricts companies’ collection and use of biometric data such as fingerprints and facial recognition. This law posed a challenge for Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and others, who took for granted the ability to analyze users’ physical performance and use them for almost anything they want.

This law was violated many times, which accompanied the emergence of claim after claim. Only a small fraction of these claims were granted, but it still forced companies to show what they make of data and how officially.

These two laws force companies to choose between adhering to a new, higher standard for something like privacy or creating a tiered system in which some users get more privacy than others.

We can see that even state laws have a significant impact at the federal level, forcing companies to make changes at the global level because of decisions that are technically applicable only to a small group of their users. This approach has several disadvantages since state laws created by local authorities can often contradict each other or pursue different goals.

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Please note that when planning to develop a new project as a social network, it is worth studying federal laws and the laws of individual states so as not to get sued in the future.

#3 Congress

It is the most clumsy and ineffective organ. For several years, Congress has struggled to come to a consensus and establish clear, nationwide rules for tech companies and social media that work.

As practice shows, national rules are adopted with a significant delay and are likely to receive many amendments that soften companies’ conditions at industry lobbyists’ expense. Of course, we cannot officially claim that tech companies influence Congress, but in fact, it is.

Although Congress did not bother to pass a single law to regulate the work of social networks, nevertheless, it created agencies from the first paragraph, which have not yet fully developed their powers, that we have significant influence and still have a lot to write off from them they are not worth it.

Until there is federal law, no one will be able to contain companies like Facebook. So, for now, you can maneuver among specific requirements without fear of getting caught. This will be possible exactly until a specialized expert agency or something similar appears to regulate technology companies and social networks.

#4 European regulators

The United States is only part of a global ecosystem of different and changing priorities, leaders, and legal systems. However, it can still have a significant impact on how companies operate in Europe.

The most prominent example of regulating social media and technology companies is the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, a set of rules or an extension of existing regulations dating back to 1995 that began to change how some social media companies do business.

This is just the first step that has actively begun to influence such companies’ work and should be the first step in aligning national laws and the needs of EU member states to provide the necessary influence to enforce compliance with international rules.

Difficulty in applying the GDPR is the complexity of its rules, which in turn leads to non-compliance. Also, the problem lies in the fact that the Data Protection Agency of each country acts as a node in the network, which must coordinate with all other nodes. This approach significantly slows down the process.

If a claim for violation of the GDPR is approved, it can lead to dire consequences, up to bans on entire parts of the industry, or excessive fines. Rich companies may not pay attention to penalties, but smaller companies should consider all the nuances provided by European legislation in their products’ operation.

It is also worth considering such opponents as the Antimonopoly Committee since their sphere of activity also covers the work of “big technologies.”

We will not delve into the European rules now because there are many of them, and some are complex enough to discuss it here. But let’s face it, Europe is ahead of the US in regulating social media and tech companies.

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So who regulates social media? Perhaps no one?

As our study of legislation has shown, the field on which such players as social networks play is practically free of attackers. The only ones to be wary of are small and flexible state legislatures that can attack before platforms can prepare for it. Other regulators are too slow and clumsy or even compromised by engaging with social media. There is a need to create an expert agency to regulate technology companies, but no one knows when this will happen.

As mentioned above, an agency (FCC) was created to regulate telephony and telegraph and partially tries to control technology companies and social networks.

From all the passions that have lingered in recent months, it has become clear that there is an urgent issue of creating an independent expert agency or commission at the federal level in the United States, which has the legislative power to create and enforce rules regarding the processing of consumer data through social media platforms.

Such a body must be impartial and independent in making decisions. Instructions and rules on what the agency can and cannot do should be spelled out. In turn, this body must provide a reasonable and accessible definition of the statements they prohibit, as well as a process for auditing and challenging deletions.

In other words, social networks need an authoritative body that can force the disclosure of the facts of abuse of user confidence and methods of settlement. In turn, users should be able to express their opinions on a public forum.

If we consider part of law 230 of the Communications Integrity Act, then at first glance, it may seem that it controls. Currently, the law is under revision, as this regulator can in no way influence the work of technology companies and social media.
This regulator monitors business practices in general and not in a specific industry. The Commission cannot tell social networks how they work, but if a company breaks the promises it made to its users, then the FTC has the right to enact sanctions. For example, a social media network promises that it will not use your data in a third party’s interests and violates this. In this case, the Commission has the right to fine the company.

 

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Ksenija Kolomiiets Expert & Evangelist in business optimization tools like fintech, logistics, on-demand services apps who will help you to understand the core ideas of the outlined themes by my articles. I also have great expertise in social media and education platforms so let me know "in comments" if you want me to describe a theme you're interested in.

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