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(Ten-minute read) 

The beady eye is far from the first voice to ask this question and it certainly will not be the last.

We might even come to “question whether we still have free will.

There is no doubting that the social web has created amazing opportunities to learn, discover, connect, but its downside as it penetrates our daily lives is becoming more and more prevalent in the creation of our future lives and the societies we live in.

If the public discussion is shifting increasingly to online fora, and those fora are having more and more influence over democracy it becomes increasingly important to apply principles to them. 

Honest political debate is essential for the health of a democracy.  

If discussions of import move into space where they can be readily censored, then we will simply no longer live in a society with a free exchange of ideas, because the playing field will always be tilted.

One only has to look at how social media platforms are amplifying what is wrong with the world.  

While we all reveal a huge amount of personal information online we are losing the ability to determine honest facts that democracy depends.

Basically, companies that run social media platforms are monopolies or near-monopolies in their areas of operation, and the only way we can achieve the desired outcomes is through clear, effective legal regulations. 

We can’t always control how others use their platforms but we can apply the same regulations that govern all other forms of Media.

The public cannot rely on these company’s self-regulation, because self-regulation raises more questions than it answers.

The fact is that the formation of a platform takes place in a vacuum, whereas the formation of any competitors do not, so they cannot be considered parallels in any way. 

If we take companies like Facebook and Google they both derive most of their revenue from advertising. They essentially constitute a duopoly because they have access to the best data about individuals. Every memory, picture, emoji, song, video, link, gripe, fear, hope, want, dream and bad political opinion posted is mined and monetized as data.

As a result of their algorithms, they are creating and reinforcing divided and insular online communities that do not interact with people or information with which they disagreed.

At the end of the day, how Facebook and Google conduct their businesses undermines privacy and raises questions about ethical behaviour in the uses of our information and their role in society.

The Internet is a “utility” like water or electricity. It is essential to modern life, not an optional subscription service.

Determining how to regulate Facebook or any other platform may first require some kind of definition of what it is.

Facebook brags about connecting us to our family and friends — but it also about directly influencing the outcomes of elections across the globe.

It sits on top of industries including journalism, where it, together with Google, essentially controls the distribution channels for online news and, in effect, the way people discover information about politics, government and society.

They ( Google, Facebook, Twitter,etc) have figured out how to take advantage of this dynamic to distribute false information about political candidates and hot-button political issues in order to drive up traffic and advertising revenue.

Protecting our community is more important than maximizing their profits.

They are given protections that no one can sue them for any reason — that is Google and Facebook nither are responsible for the fake news that appears on their sites.

They are completely shielded from any responsibility for the content that appears on their service.

Changes to legal protection (which has been interpreted by judges to provide a safe harbour for online platforms even when they pay to distribute others’ content and decline the option to impose editorial oversight) would likely be devastating to online platforms like Google and Facebook and would transform the way people interact across the entire internet.

However, with legal protection, sites like these could be held responsible for libellous comments posted by readers, Google could lose lawsuits over potentially false or defamatory information surfacing in search results, and Facebook could be sued for any potentially libellous comment made by anyone on its platform against any other person.

The legal bills to defend against libel and defamation claims would be enormous.

We all need protection and the ability to request platforms to provide us with control over online information by making it accessible and removable at an individual’s request.

The government, on the other hand, has a regulatory intent to protect citizens from content that is obscene or violent.

Should Facebook and their like be regulated?

A question that is never going to end. 

However, until we recognize that there is no fool-proof safeguard to keep horrific content away from the eyes of children we rely on huge fines to the detriment of us all. 

Till then with all internet platforms deflecting criticism, social media will be more psychologically damaging than anyone expected. 

We need a radical shift in the balance of power between the platforms and the people.

It is beyond comprehension that we tolerate the present position.

Or is it? When you see the below.   

Would you ever be prepared to use a nuclear weapon?

This question is increasingly put to politicians as some kind of virility test.

The subtext is that to be a credible political leader, you must be willing to use an indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction.

We should be baulking at the casual way in which political discourse on this topic has developed which is politically unacceptable and morally despicable. 

If a mainstream politician unblinkingly said that they would use chemical weapons against civilians there would be uproar. If a self-proclaimed candidate for prime minister boasted that they would commit war crimes, it would be a national scandal. Nuclear weapons should be seen no differently. 

It’s time that nuclear advocates spelt out the reality of what their position means.

The human race is so good at speaking, it’s lost the art of listening.

It might be easy to brush away the febrile atmosphere online as a nasty byproduct of free expression: I don’t want Facebook having everyone’s verified identities. I do want their platform and other platforms to be held responsible legally for content that is false, racest, hateful, rightwing fascist propaganda.  

I do know that if the big platforms, as they already do in part, forced some verifiable information to back up use, we could tame this wild west with legal requirements

I’ll give up on the consensus-building when I can open a platform knowing who to hold legally responsible.  

All human comments appreciated. All like clicks and abuse chucked in the bin.