Following scandals related to spreading fake news, live broadcasts of suicide bombings or terrorist attacks, social networks are forced to change their approach, according to an analysis by the Financial Times.
Almost ten years ago, an Italian court sentenced three Google executives to six months in prison for failing to prevent a video clip of an autistic child being harassed from appearing in the search engine results. The sentence was considered abrupt and was subsequently annulled.
After attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, were broadcast live on the internet, Australian authorities introduced a new law that says social media executives might even be sentenced to prison if they don’t take timely action to remove violent content.
The idea of imposing sanctions in such cases also appeared in the United Kingdom. More specifically, all companies that host user-generated material would be responsible, including criminally, for all content on their web pages. This proposal, however, has been criticized. “(The measure) may not fall within the reasonable standards of the right to free speech,” said Alex Stamos, former director of information security at Facebook and professor at Stanford University.
However, it is clear that the fight against hate-promoting content and misinformation on the Internet has grown. Facebook and Google, which have the largest user-generated content platforms, are forced to adapt to a new reality after, for years, they were not held accountable for the content they hosted if they removed the sensitive materials upon prior notification.
“Hitler would have loved social media”
Changes in mentality in this area are major in recent years. Bob Iger, Walt Disney’s executive director, said that “Hitler would have loved social media, the most powerful marketing tool an extremist could ever want.”
Although the change was difficult, two elements contributed to the emergence of a desire to change the regulations in the field. The first of these was the strong public feeling against Christchurch-type tragedies. Materials of a terrorist nature or other types of hate speech and also the fact that some types of content may endanger the safety of children have prompted authorities in several states to take action in this regard.
Second, internet companies have lost political capital in recent years, including Washington. As they expanded, Google and Facebook gained allies among American politicians, especially those in the Democratic Party. The two companies used to make consistent donations for Democratic candidates’ campaigns, but scandals such as spreading fake news, data security issues, or Russia’s mixing up in elections through social media have caused a rift between the politician and the two giants.
As they felt the changes, the companies tried to adapt. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called for US authorities to further regulate this area, a statement that many have categorized as just a motion picture. “Internet companies should be held accountable for how they apply the rules on dangerous content. New rules are needed to establish what is forbidden or not and to force companies to build systems that keep the inappropriate content at the lowest possible level,” he said.
Companies that promote themselves through online platforms play an important role in this equation. In 2017, several companies withdrew their ads from YouTube for fear that their promotional materials would not be displayed next to videos with inappropriate content. At that time, YouTube announced changes to its usage policy, changed its algorithms, and removed a large number of sensitive-content videos. Subsequently, the advertising revenue returned back to normal.
Moreover, the next moves that companies in this field will make will depend on the revenue. Roger McNamee, a former advisor of Mark Zuckerberg, explained that these platforms were created to elicit strong reactions from users. Thus, the materials with controversial content hosted by them cause such reactions. “The problem with hate speech is that it is a cornerstone of Google and Facebook’s business model,” he said.