Trump suspension underscores need to regulate social media

By Matthew Elmas

Monday January 11, 2021


The suspension of US President Donald Trump from Facebook and Twitter has renewed debate about regulating tech giants, with advocates calling for increased public oversight of ‘out of control’ social media platforms.

Facebook and Twitter moved to permanently suspend Trump last week after the outgoing president incited deadly political violence in the nation’s capital, Washington D.C..

The move has prompted outrage among some Coalition politicians in Australia, compounded after multinationals Google and Apple removed Parler—a social media platform popular with Trump supporters—from their app stores.

These include Nationals MP George Christensen and Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who are longstanding supporters of Trump. But the decisions have also irked Liberal MP Dave Sharma, who argued the move amounted to censorship.

“Such decisions should be taken by a publicly accountable body, on the basis of transparent reasoning and principles,” Sharma tweeted.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which has led the world in formulating policy to reign in social media companies, agreed more stringent regulation is needed in comments to Nine newspapers over the weekend.

Advocacy group Reset Australia argues the multinational companies running the platforms are ‘out of control’ and should be forced to accept public oversight of decisions which may have implications for political speech and democracy.

“It’s time for social media to grow up and accept public oversight is coming,” Reset Australia executive director Chris Cooper said.

“Regardless of how we use social media, or whether we use it at all – we are all affected by the current lack of accountability.”

Reset says the American companies running Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are ‘not neutral’ but rather curated spaces where algorithms ‘supercharge sensational and conspiratorial content’ to boost ‘audience engagement’ (read: ad revenue).

“Only the platforms have a bird’s eye view of how the algorithms work, and what content is getting amplified. We need a regulatory body with the power and access to audit these algorithms so that we can begin to understand how exactly they operate and how they can meet community expectations,” Cooper said.

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