The Hue and Cry Over Facebook

Facebook stock got whacked today over revelations that 50 million people had their data appropriated by an outside group.  This just adds to the wailing and gnashing of teeth over Facebook’s role over the results of the 2016 election in which the dastardly Russians supposedly used Facebook to spread lies and misinformation that may have swung the election in Donald Trump’s favor by hurting the public image of Hillary Clinton.  Now I am not a huge Facebook fan, although we once created a prototype Smartphone app using the nascent Facebook API before Facebook or Smartphones became ubiquitous, and honestly one can only tip one’s hat to the achievements of such a juggernaut.

However something just does not sit right about the idea of having the government regulate Facebook, or forcing it to curate the posts of the hundreds of millions of users in order to increase the truthiness of information promulgated therefrom.  What these efforts essentially signify is that governors think that people can not be trusted to think for themselves.  People can not be trusted to think critically to distinguish truth from fiction.  The government must step in to enforce truth on the platform is the dangerous refrain.  Red flags should be flying and loud alarms going off when one hears this.  To the extent that outside actors use established information platforms to change hearts and minds, that is the essence of what is protected by the First Amendment.  Changing hearts and minds is the essence of a Democratic system.  Does anyone think that anything that was posted by third parties was any more or less truth oriented than the insane drivel that comes out of the mouths of politicians themselves, or their supporters?

Prudent regulators should tread carefully with a light touch.  If actions were taken to actually change the votes of people after they have been cast that would change the vote of people that had cast them (or as in the case of recent Russian election, simply casting votes that were not cast by actual people), then yes by all means something must be done to prevent such nefarious activity.  But in the battle for hearts and minds, the government should stand idly by and do nothing –  to Facebook or any other outlet for information.

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