As Facebook, Google, and Twitter have come under increasing pressure to oversee the origins of ads and posting of content on platforms in the aftermath of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Congressional lawmakers have joined the debate.
One such lawmaker is Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who spoke out forcefully against the social media giants Wednesday, calling for “vigorous oversight” of their activities by the federal government.
They collect “massive troves of information” about their customers, Franken said in a speech to the Open Markets Institute in Washington, D.C., observing: “We are not their customers, we are their product”:
— Business Insider (@businessinsider) November 9, 2017
Franken made similar comments in a Wednesday op-ed for The Guardian:
As lawmakers grapple with the revelations regarding Russia’s manipulation of social media during the 2016 election, many are shocked to learn the outsized role that the major tech companies play in so many aspects of our lives.
Not only do they guide what we see, read, and buy on a regular basis, but their dominance — specifically in the market of information — now requires that we consider their role in the integrity of our democracy.
He said we “can't trust the companies” even when “they do start paying attention”:
The platforms that big tech has designed may now be so large and unruly that we can’t trust the companies to get it right when they do start paying attention.
If you have five million advertisers a month using your highly sophisticated, nearly instantaneous ad platform, can you ever really know who all of them are? Can you ever catch all the signals that would seem obvious to a pair of human eyes — for example, political ads that are paid for in rubles?
As a result, Franken said the government now has a responsibility to step in:
The government has a responsibility to ensure that these corporations do not endanger our national security, our democracy, or our fundamental freedoms.
[W]e desperately need to conduct vigorous oversight — in the form of investigations and hearings — to fully understand current practices and the potential for harm. We must work together to make this happen.
Franken hopes an effort to regulate the tech giants will enjoy broad bipartisan support in Congress: “I'm hopeful that recent events will encourage regulators, as well as a broader contingent of my colleagues — on both sides of the aisle — to give this issue the attention it deserves.”
Either way, one place Franken's call for “vigorous oversight” did not receive broad support was on social media itself, as Twitter users were quick to let him know:
Jonathan saw a big helping of hypocrisy in Franken's comments:
Liberals: Donald Trump is a fascist.
Also liberals: Give the federal government total control to restrict the 1st & 2nd Amendment. Kthxbai.
— Jonathan Goldstein (@TeamAmericaMOFO) November 9, 2017
Peter saw scary comparisons to George Orwell's “1984” and “Animal Farm”:
Gov't control over our media tech is way to go...1984, animal farm
— Peter Klinge Jr (@peterklinge) November 9, 2017
As did Chainsean Massacre:
Just your friendly neighborhood Democrat, trying to institute Orwellian control over your thoughts and actions. https://t.co/6axFFmdPsz
— Chainsean Massacre (@BetterBuckleUp) November 9, 2017
Jim asked the proverbial “what could possibly go wrong?” question:
Yes, let's give the government free reign to look at what we say and search for online. What could go wrong there? https://t.co/IrctCZQx3u
— Jim Bevan (@JimB_85) November 9, 2017
Sean took a different tack, suggesting the government itself doesn't exactly run like a Swiss watch:
Hey Al. Why don’t you focus on oversight of the friggin government that can’t even run effectively?
— Sean (@405sean) November 9, 2017
Finally, Marek harkened back to Franken's “Saturday Night Live” days, and his Stuart Smalley character — with a twist:
God, so tired of this socialist Stuart Smalley pic.twitter.com/gRKxiQ3sSE
— Marek Zee (@MarekZee) November 9, 2017
“Vigorous oversight” or not, social media is forever. Apparently, so is Stuart Smalley.