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Dangerous by Design

In December 2023, Issue One published a powerful report, Dangerous by Design that details the dangers of social media, and offers possible interventions that could reduce the danger and maximize the positive impact of social media.

Although I recommend reading the entire report, here's a summary of its findings.

  • In a largely unregulated environment, social media amplifies the most extreme content, promoting addictive behaviors and company profits with an army of lobbyists to protect their interests and agenda

  • Eight out of 10 surveyed in a recent national poll — including 84% of Republicans and 83% of Democrats — want to hold social media companies accountable for the harm they are doing, and strongly support federal legislation that increases transparency, ensures privacy, and protects children.

  • Legislative principles articulated in the report:

    • Our children, our communities, and our national security must come first. No longer can Big Tech be allowed to design addictive products, harvest user data, and manipulate users to maximize their profits with no regard to the consequences.

    • Americans have a fundamental right to privacy. Congress must stop social media platforms from collecting our information without permission, and collect only the data they need to operate effectively and in the interest of consumers.

    • Social media products must protect the mental, physical, and developmental health of American children by design and by default. This includes ending addictive practices like the endless scroll and targeted advertising to minors.

    • We have a right to know how social media technology is controlling the content we see and to understand the impact on our health and well-being. Parents, policymakers, researchers, and all Americans should be able to easily understand how these platforms are designed and operated.

    • Social media platforms must adopt safeguards to prioritize fact-based information to stop foreign and domestic adversaries from spreading false or misleading information.

    • Social media companies must be open and transparent. Social media’s secretive nature makes it nearly impossible to design effective, fact-based policies. Laws that require that social media companies make information available to researchers and the public — including statistics about content moderation, data about viral content, and descriptions of recommendation algorithms — would be an obvious starting point. That would mean regular and complete disclosure of key design, content, and data-collection decisions. This transparency must also include information relating to online advertising and content pushing, including microtargeting, in order to prevent the amplification of harmful content.

    • Social media platforms must no longer be used as tools by foreign and domestic adversaries. Congress must mitigate the ability for bad actors to use social media to sow distrust in American institutions, recruit and radicalize, and threaten our national security.

    • Social media companies’ core business model must be fundamentally changed away from the pervasive monitoring, tracking, and sale of user data. Comprehensive privacy protections are crucial to restore user ownership of their own data and end social media’s extractive, manipulative practices.

    • Social media companies must reverse the tide of self-perpetuating echo chambers on their platforms. For social media companies to live up to their own missions to “bring the world closer,” they must rethink systems that send users to their extreme corners.

    • Social media companies must stop using algorithms to elevate the most extreme content. Algorithms that amplify inflammatory content, filter users into rabbit holes of questionable content, and recommend joining hate groups must be redesigned.

    • Social media platforms should adopt measures that slow down the speed at which things are shared and cause people to pause and think before sharing harmful or untrue content. Creating “friction,” or pauses, in the system to slow down the spread of material can and should be built into the platforms.

    • Social media companies must build better capacity to ensure veracity. If a social media company provides its services anywhere, its value of sharing accuracy and facts must be included and built into the platforms, including overseas.

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