Without stringent regulations, companies like Facebook will plunge society into dystopia.

Throughout its history, Facebook — as a media conglomerate and a cultural icon — has been synonymous with scandal. The most recent scandals are accusations of influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, and the congressional hearings that followed, and now Frances Haugen’s eye-opening testimony. A few months ago, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, shared thousands of files and data with the Securities and Exchange Commission, a governmental agency overseeing stock exchanges. These so-called “Facebook Papers” revealed that the leaders of Facebook have been aware of the extremely negative consequences of their technology to its users for years, but they prioritized their public image and profits. A collection of internal audits, conversations between employees, and findings from research experiments, the papers expose the worst aspects of Facebook the public suspected. They were aware of the fact that the body image of teenage girls deteriorated after looking on Instagram, the Facebook algorithm promotes hate speech and recommends radical groups, they alter the political landscape of countries without properly researching their culture, and so, so much more. Another notable pattern is Facebook’s ability to quickly recover and bounce back by announcing new changes, creating new products, and changing the conversation. Zuckerberg’s response to the Facebook papers was to substantially downplay the conclusions of internal research and deny the evidence of internal conflict. Instead of addressing the revelations, he announced a rebranding of the parent company from Facebook.

Amongst these controversies and announcements are the calls from social justice advocates, constituents, and some politicians to increase the regulation of Facebook. Yes, Facebook engages in activities that endanger the public good, but it is also a monopoly, controlling three of the most influential social media applications in the world: Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp. In December 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued Facebook, accusing the company of buying its competitors to liquidate competition — the goal being to split Facebook up. However, the suit was thrown out six months later by a federal judge who claimed that the FTC did not have enough evidence to convict Facebook. Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Mark Zuckerberg and other leaders of Facebook were subpoenaed for a congressional hearing and were questioned harshly by representatives. In the aftermath, Democrats and many constituents called for legislation that protected data privacy, changes to previous laws that removed accountability from these companies for the content posted by their users, and stricter Anti-Trust action. Yet, nothing substantial has occurred since.

The support for stricter legislation is there, so what is stopping it? The argument of freedom of speech applied to tech companies through Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is older than Google. The argument over the First Amendment’s application to social media continues, especially in the era after the insurrection on January 6th. In terms of parties, Republicans believe that this section gives social media companies more power to suppress voices, while Democrats think it removes accountability for failing to effectively stop illegal practices, like organizing an insurrection. In light of recent events, both parties have recognized the need for regulatory oversight. The argument now is how to proceed. Many have proposed creating a new federal agency dedicated to regulating Big Tech, and passing stricter data privacy legislation to limit Facebook’s profits. Both solutions may be effective, but they have to be implemented first. The Facebook papers exposed systematic issues that have gravely affected billions of people across the world, most of whom are completely unaware of it. Algorithmic biases, misinformation, harming mental health, allowing the congregation of violent groups, using detailed data for advertising profits, and lack of restriction of hate speech and hateful public figures are just a few examples of said issues. Unless stricter regulation of Facebook is enforced in 2022, this list and Facebook’s unprecedented power will only grow as they sink society further into dystopia.

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