Forget Facebook, Policymakers Should Think About the Future

Are the internet’s best days behind it?

US lawmakers are asking that question in light of growing concerns about data use. Some are looking for a potential solution in the stringent new data rules that went into effect in the European Union on May 25, called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). But internet regulation comes with serious downsides, potentially solidifying the power of a few companies and slowing the pace of innovation. Regulators must consider these tradeoffs before acting. 

In 1996, a Republican Congress and President Clinton passed the Telecommunications Act. Section 230 of the law protects intermediaries like social media platforms and websites from lawsuits stemming from content created by their users. The law also encouraged each platform to develop its own norms, guidelines, and community standards. As a result, a diverse framework of standards emerged. For instance, Reddit allows adult content, Facebook does not; the Apple App Store has a very rigorous approval process, the Google Play Store is more open. 

While some general norms have emerged, the diversity of standards reflects the diverse values and ways in which communities interact and form. Some platforms and communities like Twitch have even developed their own languages. Advocates for new Internet laws disagree on whether platforms should censor more or censor less — a noteworthy problem in itself — but top-down regulations in either direction would create a one-size-fits-all approach that would likely satisfy no one.

Read more: It's Not About Facebook; It's About the Next Facebook

Listen: Here's How to Regulate Facebook Productively