Daily Camera (Boulder)

Social media companies must curtail spread of misinforma­tion

About 500 hours of video gets uploaded to Youtube every minute. The online videoshari­ng platform houses more than 800 million videos and is the second most visited site in the world, with 2.5 billion active monthly users.


Given the deluge of content flooding the site every day, one would surmise that Youtube must have an army of people guarding against the spread of misinforma­tion — especially in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrecti­on that was fueled by lies on social media.

Well, not actually.

Following recent cutbacks, there is just one person in charge of misinforma­tion policy worldwide, according to a report in the New York Times. This is alarming, since factchecki­ng organizati­ons have said Youtube is a major pipeline in the spread of disinforma­tion and misinforma­tion.

Youtube is owned by

Google. The cutbacks were part of a broader reduction by Alphabet, Google’s parent company, which shed 12,000 jobs in an effort to boost profits, which were around $60 billion last year.

Youtube is not the only social media company easing some of the already limited safeguards put in place following the Russian disinforma­tion campaign that helped elect Donald Trump in 2016.

Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, slashed 11,000 jobs last fall and is reportedly preparing more layoffs.

Those cuts came as Facebook, which made $23 billion last year, quietly reduced its efforts to thwart foreign interferen­ce and voting misinforma­tion before the November midterm elections.

Facebook also shut down an examinatio­n into how lies are amplified in political ads on the social media site and indefinite­ly banned a team of New York University researcher­s from the site.

Twitter implemente­d even deeper cuts, laying off 50% of its employees days before the midterm election in November. The cuts included employees in charge of preventing the spread of misinforma­tion. Hate speech also exploded on Twitter since Elon Musk purchased the company for $44 billion in October.

In the weeks after Musk took control of Twitter, antisemiti­c posts jumped more than 61%. Slurs against Black people soared by more than 200%, while slurs against gay men increased by 58%. The hate spewed online has been linked to an increase in violence toward people of color and immigrants around the world.

To be sure, the First Amendment makes it difficult to regulate social media companies. But doing nothing is not the answer. Policymake­rs must soon strike a balance between the First Amendment and regulating social media.

Texas and Florida have already muddied the regulation debate by passing laws that will upend the already limited content moderation efforts by social media companies and make the internet an even bigger free-for-all. The U.S. Supreme Court put off whether to take up the cases, leaving the state laws in limbo for now.

Meanwhile, the European Union is pushing forward with its own landmark regulation­s called the Digital Services Act. The measure takes effect next year and aims to place substantia­l content moderation requiremen­ts on social media companies to limit false informatio­n, hate speech and extremism.

The spread of misinforma­tion and disinforma­tion is a growing threat to civil society. Social media companies can’t ignore their responsibi­lity.

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