On Halloween, the Senate met with lawyers from Facebook, Twitter and Google about the spread of misinformation through their platforms by the Russian government. From the Senate hearing, it was evident that social media companies had little interest in preventing this from happening in the future, nor would they claim any responsibility for allowing foreign governments to influence our elections.
This seems to be a classic situation where an industry will refuse to regulate itself, and thus the government must step in and create laws to protect people. I think regulation is really the only answer in this situation. We need laws in place that require political advertisements to show who is paying for them in the same way that political advertisements are handled on TV and radio.
As more information has come to light, so have the intentions of Russia. There have been ads traced back to Russian “troll farms” in St. Petersburg where the government pays people to develop misleading political ads aimed at Americans. They were effective because they looked like they were made by American organizations.
The troll farms would create facebook groups to organize protests in the U.S. while simultaneously creating a Facebook group to start a counter protest. Both protests were fueled by “us or them” rhetoric meant to divide people and spark violence which it did in some cases such as in Houston Texas. This is terrifying because it shows that the goal of Russia’s troll farms is to start violence in the U.S. For some malicious reason, they want Americans to not trust the media and to hate one another. So far they have been very good at accomplishing both goals
Now that evidence of these troll farms are publicly available, it seems logical that social media outlets would put an end to them. The senate hearing on Halloween aimed to do just that. The best and easiest way to put a stop to foreign meddling through social media would be to let social media correct itself.
Unfortunately, the people running social media companies seem to care very little since they accepted payment from Russia for ad space. Even though they pledged in the Senate hearing to stop the spread of misinformation, there doesn’t seem to be any basis for said pledge. The entire Senate hearing was a game of grammatical “ring around the rosey” where senators would ask simple questions and the representatives would give long winded and meaningless answers. This shows that they don’t care and will put in effort to avoid responsibility.
The only solution, I think, is for the government to step in. The internet is still new and the world is still discovering what it is capable of. This shows us that mass communication is a powerful tool and if someone were to communicate lies with evil intent they would succeed with impunity as Russia has just done.
What needs to happen, and is starting to happen, is regulation on political ads on the internet. If someone is to post a political ad online, they should be required to show who is funding it. This regulation already exists on television and radio and only makes sense that it would exist online.
Russian troll farms are a terrifying reality in the digital age. Not only is it possible for people to manipulate the public with false information, it’s proven to be extremely effective. Russia has been more than successful in turning Americans against each other to disrupt our democracy. The tech companies that are supposed to take care of this kind of thing aren’t doing their job. They did very little to prevent Russia from manipulating the election and it doesn’t seem likely that they will stop it in the future. The only solution seems to be for the government to step in and regulate political ads on the digital landscape.