A House Committee Hearing Targeting Social Media Platforms is Theater
By Matt Mackowiak
After holding a rather ridiculous hearing in late April with sworn testimony from YouTube celebrities Diamond and Silk, the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday is holding a hearing with only Facebook, Twitter and Google as its targets.
Undoubtedly, many conservatives are concerned about censorship on social media platforms.
It would be good for Facebook to answer these questions in public and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been doing that.
Facebook updated their guidelines for the monetization of content on the platform, and during that transition there were problems and they have acknowledged this. Some users may have been out of compliance when the guidelines changed. The transition was messy.
But while summoning only one social media platform to a committee hearing to attack them in public may be good theater, it is not a serious approach to the issue.
Social media platforms are dealing with a range of complicated issues in today’s world. There are privacy issues, the need for preventing fake news from spreading online, the need for better verification of platform users, the need to identify who funds ads on the platforms, and the urgent need to prevent election interference.
Congress should be looking at these issues in a thoughtful way, with the goal of improving the regulation of these platforms for the users and enhancing security, while allowing for the innovation and profit that have enabled these platforms to change the world and enhance the lives of millions of people.
If laws need to be updated to reflect changing technology, then Congress should study these issues and act carefully. But micromanaging technology companies from the halls of Congress is a recipe for disaster.
One risk here is that many of these platforms have moved quickly to better regulate false content, and now Congress is considering changing the rules after they have undertaken expensive and time-consuming policy reviews and technological changes.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are easy targets, and they are not blameless.
But we should also broaden the scope to consider telecommunications companies who have far more control over the internet than the “edge” platforms do.
One example is Comcast and the advertising company they own, which recently banned advertising sales for the widely read conservative site Breitbart. It’s not just Breitbart; they have also banned television advertisements for guns and ammunition. Yet there has been no scrutiny from Congress for the telecoms like Comcast, which wields enormous power over the advertising content we see, and seems to have a bias against conservatives to boot.
A broader scope of witnesses would lead to far more valuable information for members of Congress considering how to address censorship online.
Sideshow hearings, whether they be with Diamond and Silk or with only three social media platforms, fail to meet the standard that public policy should be serious, careful and thoughtful.
Social media platforms already have a significant incentive already to improve the security of their platforms from fake news and election interference. They know they need to address this issue and they have been working to do so.
Conservatives should remember that burdensome regulation stifles innovation.
Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. His “Mack on Politics” podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and on WashingtonTimes.com.