The Corner

Science & Tech

Facebook Changes Are Far from Straightforward

Facebook’s critics often seem to suggest that there are easy and straightforward solutions to the tech giant’s challenges.

For example, it is often argued that Facebook should simply label political and issue ads and show who paid for them. This sounds easy, but it faces a perennial challenge in regulating political speech: Namely, what counts as political speech? And in the case of Facebook, the matter is further complicated by the involvement of foreign entities.

I offer some thought experiments designed to illustrate the complexity behind supposedly simple changes to Facebook policy in my Bloomberg column:

If a foreign public health organization buys Facebook ads to raise awareness about, say, malaria vaccinations, should Facebook label them as engaging in political activity? If users in the U.S. see the ad while foreign aid is an election issue, does that count as foreign interference? If a U.S. university buys ads to promote the research of its faculty, and that research is on politically salient issues like the minimum wage, should the university be labeled as politically active? What if a religious organization does the same on social issues?

Likewise, the issue of user verification is not straightforward. If, for example, Facebook requires all users to have government-issued ID, then it is effectively disallowing individuals without ID from opening Facebook accounts. And do we want Facebook to have copies of all of our driver’s licenses? There are similar complexities with seemingly simple regulations designed to increase competition among social-media companies, such as allowing users to take their content with them from Facebook to a competitor.

I go into more detail over at Bloomberg. Your comments, as always, are very welcome.

Michael R. Strain — Michael R. Strain is the director of economic-policy studies and the Arthur F. Burns Scholar in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute.  

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