Analysis & Opinions - Judy Dempsey's Strategic Europe

Judy Asks: Is Social Media Above the Law?

| Mar. 21, 2018

A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

No—or not for much longer. Facebook and others were designed to evade the long arm of the law. For years, Facebook actively eluded U.S. laws, including the 1996 Communications Decency Act and the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, neither of which anticipated the advent of social media. It has kept regulators at bay in part because of their lack of technical sophistication to understand its evolution into an algorithm-based, data-harvesting system. Facebook claimed to be neither an advertiser, nor a media organization, but simply a “platform”—an internet “Switzerland.” But it preyed on its users’ vulnerabilities, changing its terms of service and extracting data while we were sleeping.

With unconstrained tentacles, Facebook became the internet to millions of people around the world with far-reaching effects, including on the Rohingya genocide. Now, arguably too late, lawmakers are wising up. Zuckerberg’s preferred self-regulation won’t stand. Facebook is already losing money. Congress needs to pass the Honest Ads Act this year. Other action will follow. But U.S. and EU regulators must be wary—this area of the law will need constant updating to regulate while not harming Western competitive capacities in tech vis-à-vis the Chinese. Are today’s regulators up to that task? Highly uncertain.

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For Academic Citation: Clüver Ashbrook, Cathryn.“Judy Asks: Is Social Media Above the Law?.” Judy Dempsey's Strategic Europe, March 21, 2018.