As social media platforms become an increasingly important part of our lives, they also come under greater scrutiny. Yet, even though social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become staples in many of our lives, they have been hesitant to change their ways, fearing a loss in revenue and users.
However, it looks like the government and large corporations are prepared to act if social media companies don’t make changes to comply with their demands. So far, regulation has fallen short – and users have limited control over the content they are exposed to.
But this may be changing soon.
What Is Social Media Regulation?
Social media regulation is a way of trying to control or limit what users can see and do on social media platforms. This can be in the form of censorship, age restrictions, or bans on certain types of content.
Currently, social media companies are not regulated in the same way as other media outlets, such as television and newspapers.
In 2020, over 3.6 billion people used social media worldwide, a number expected to increase to roughly 4.41 billion in 2025. With so many people now using social media, regulating the content users are exposed to is increasingly necessary.
So far, regulation has been problematic because social media companies have gotten away with a lot – like not having to take responsibility for the content posted on their platforms.
Why Is Social Media Regulation Important?
While social media platforms do have some age restrictions and terms of service, they fall short of the requirements of other media outlets.
Social media users frequently see potentially harmful content, such as violence, hate speech, and fake news. For example, in 2021, 41% of children between the ages of 12 and 15 reported being exposed to deliberately fake news. What’s worse, 34% reported being unsure if they had been exposed to fake news or not.
Not only that, but data breaches and terms of service violations have become more common, and social media companies are slow to act.
In 2021 alone, there have already been several high-profile social media scandals, such as the Capitol Hill riot and the spread of misinformation about the pandemic.
Social media regulation is crucial because it can help protect users from exposure to harmful or misleading content. It can also help hold social media companies accountable for handling user data. Added user protection means it will become more difficult for social media companies to profit from selling user data without the users’ consent.
Politically, social media regulation is essential. Extremist groups use social media to spread false information or interfere in elections. From 2005 to 2016, social media was factored into the radicalization of 50.15% of extremist and radical groups members in the United States. If left unchecked, social media can be a powerful tool for those who want to do harm.
This issue is especially problematic in countries where social media is the primary source of news and information.
Why Has Social Media Come under Scrutiny?
Recently, social media has come under fire for spreading false information and “fake news.” In 2020, social media companies were blamed for interfering in the US presidential election.
A big part of the social media regulation debate is about algorithms. Algorithms are the computer programs social media platforms use to decide what content to show users. Unfortunately, these algorithms are often biased and can manipulate what users see. This can be a considerable problem since social media users spent approximately 3.7 trillion hours on social media in 2021.
For example, YouTube has allegedly promoted by using algorithms to show conspiracy theories and extremist content continuously. Once users watch one of these videos, the algorithm will offer them more similar content, and they can potentially become “trapped” in a cycle of conspiracy theories and misinformation.
How Social Media Platforms Are Reluctant
The social media advertisement spending segment in the UK is projected to grow 8.49% by 2026 (see here). With such a heavy reliance on advertising, social media companies are reluctant to change because they fear a loss in revenue and users. These platforms make money by selling advertising space and user data.
If social media platforms were required to censor their content, they would lose out on both of these sources of income. They also risk users leaving their platforms to go to less regulated ones.
These are just some reasons why social media companies have been slow to act on calls for change. They are hesitant to make any changes that would impact their bottom line and user base.
Why Social Media Companies Will Need to Change
Despite the financial benefits of social media, it is becoming clear that something needs to change. If social media companies don’t change how they operate, they will likely face government action.
Since 2018, the European Union has started cracking down and implementing laws requiring social media companies to remove illegal content, according to Reuters. This includes content that is hateful, violent, or pornographic. If social media companies don’t comply with this law, they face fines of up to four percent of their global revenue.
Modifications may take the form of new laws and regulations that would force social media companies to change their ways. It’s also possible that social media platforms face litigation and penalties when accused of causing harm.
Many businesses are also putting pressure on social media companies to change. In 2020, several large companies pulled their ads from Facebook after the platform failed to bar hateful content
This backlash showed social media companies that their practices could have serious financial consequences. As more businesses become aware of social media’s impact, they may pressure social media companies to change their ways.
Ways Social Media Platforms Can Change
So, what can social media platforms do to avoid government action?
Social media companies can change by being more forthcoming about how they operate. This transparency includes clarifying what user data is collected and how information is used. Social media companies should also allow users to opt-out of selling their data.
Another way social media companies can change is by giving users more control over the content they see. One way to do this is by allowing users to filter out certain types of content or providing them with the option to view content from a specific source.
Finally, social media companies can change by identifying and removing harmful content by being more proactive. This process includes working with experts to identify false information and taking action to remove it from their platforms.
The Future of Social Media Regulation
Today, the government and businesses are paying more attention to social media than ever before. The European Union has already passed some laws regulating social media, and other countries will likely follow suit. Donald Trump’s Truth Social is highly likely to come under the scrutiny of regulation.
It’s also possible that social media companies will make changes on their own to avoid government regulation.
Only time will tell what the future of social media regulation looks like. But one thing is for sure: social media platforms cannot continue to operate the way they have been.
The Bottom Line
Social media companies will need to make changes to avoid government action and financial consequences. They will need to balance censoring content and protecting free speech and become more transparent about their algorithms and how they impact users.
So far, social media companies have been able to avoid significant regulation. But as the calls for social media reform continue to grow, it’s only a matter of time before something changes.
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