Leaving the burden to determine fake news to individual Internet users is a cop-out

Social media sites are just another media channel, but the executives of the top three social media sites are in denial after failing the public.

It’s frightening that even now, more than a year after the election, we still don’t know the extent of the Russia-linked propaganda effort in social media. And it’s disturbing that the companies are basically saying that the drip-drip-drip of revelations is likely to continue as they uncover more “fake” ads.

Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana asked the Big Tech companies if they were in the media business or were simply agnostic technology platforms. Surprise! Each company’s lawyer declared his company an agnostic tech platform.  This despite the fact that all three companies distribute news and other media to billions of people each day, act as a primary news source for millions here in the US, and make money by selling advertising that they runs next to or place within news articles and videos.

Even if the Big Tech platforms don’t want to label themselves as such, the fact is that they basically are media companies. And they ought to have the same responsibilities as other media companies to vet the content and ads they distribute.

But let’s be realistic. Facebook values making money over making sure political ads are legitimate.  In addition, Big Tech sent a message to Congress and the American people that it didn’t think its CEOs should be held accountable for the abuse on their platforms, whether before, during, or after the election.

It’s high time Congress stopped viewing Facebook as entertainment for teenagers and started seeing it for what it really represents: a radical shift in how American politics and media operate.  When technology changes in radical ways, our laws, regulations, and social norms need an update, too.

What’s really needed is for Internet platforms to take on greater responsibility for chasing down false and misleading material before it spreads . Leaving that burden to individual Internet users is a cop-out.

Even though the press is protected by name in the Constitution, traditional news outlets are still operate under certain legal constraints. Newspapers and broadcast stations alike are liable for the content of news stories and advertisements that they circulate. Election laws require them to identify the people who pay for campaign ads.

When Congress held hearings on the fake ads the three big social media CEO’s didn’t even bother to show up.  They sent their legal counsel  instead.  That should tell you a lot and why Congress needs to take action when tech companies cop out.

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