All Articles, Cybersecurity, Internet

The Social Media Election

Social Media may help us connect with people across borders, but the breaking down of borders is being misused and it needs to be fixed.
By: Akshay Pardiwala

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In an ever growing world of the internet, it is hard to define borders. This could be a good thing, social media can help connect friends and families around the world, but this easy connection to people around the world could be misused. Corruption in the old days happened in person, people would try to leverage their position to receive personal benefits, but with the internet, people are able to hide behind fake accounts and computer screens which makes corruption even harder to detect and regulate. In recent news, Russia was able to sponsor political advertisements on the United States election through various social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google with fake accounts. The number of fake accounts continues to change as Facebook uncovers more and more, but they have most recently stated that around 126 million Americans may have seen political ads related to the recent political election. To put that in perspective, that number is around one-third of the total population of America.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is an act that prohibits a US citizen or publically traded company in the US to bribe government officials. This act ensures that companies or individuals in the US do not meddle or influence anything in foreign governments. The United States wouldn’t appreciate it if other countries meddled in their affairs, so they must do their part and not meddle in any other countries affairs. This especially holds true with a country which we haven’t had the best relations with over the last century or so, Russia. So while talking about the legal issues here, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) mentions that any sort of contributions made to influence elections from foreign governments are subject to FEC enforcement action and criminal prosecution.

In my previous post on the Equifax data breach, I talked about data security and how companies should be more careful with sensitive data. With Facebook and other social media sites, a similar idea exists, what sort of responsibilities do Facebook, Twitter, and Google have to the US government? Social media websites have to be completely transparent with everyone who will be impacted by the things posted on social media. Russia may have an opinion as to who they would prefer as the President of the US, but it is illegal for them to try and influence the election. The legal terms are well defined here from the FEC, but social media makes those terms vague and it is the responsibility of social media websites to go out of their way to make sure their platform isn’t being misused. This is why transparency is key amongst all social media websites.

In the last decade or two, social media was responsible for the rise of another form of bullying, cyber bullying. This wasn’t intended by the creators of social media websites, but it was something they inadvertently caused. These websites actively tried to reduce cyber bullying by allowing multiple ways for people to report any kind of harassments. Similarly, social media websites need to be able to track where certain advertisements come from, what their intentions are, and how legitimate they are. Ultimately, social media platforms might not have legal responsibilities over what people say on their platforms but in this case, the platforms might be labeled as enablers of corruption. Social media wouldn’t want to tarnish their reputation in the world by the actions of another so they will be forced to act. Just like with cyber bullying where social media was an enabler for bullying, there has to be a system place to not regulate speech, but rather to identify who is saying what to prove that social media doesn’t enable corruption. Otherwise, we will never know who is trying to say what and if someone is violating the law behind a fake identity. In response to this, Social media will certainly move to more authentic and transparent advertisements so users can regain a sense of trust in the voices that take up their feeds.

Talking Points:

  • Can social media ever help the government? It seems like it has been causing more problems than solutions?
  • The whole purpose of social media has been to connect people around the world, do you think this might be the start of the purpose of social media to change?
  • What are some ways social media can become more transparent? No one knew about the Russian advertisements, so what duty do social media website have to their users regarding this?

Work Cited

Federal Election Commision. “Foreign Nationals”. FEC.gov. https://www.fec.gov/updates/foreign-nationals/.
Rob Goldman. “Update on Our Advertising Transparency and Authenticity Efforts.” Facebook Newsroom, Facebook, newsroom.fb.com/news/2017/10/update-on-our-advertising-transparency-and-authenticity-efforts/

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