Keywords are defined as a word or collection of words that are most often used to launch a search query. By this definition, would the number of times a word is used be enough to launch an inquiry in Congress for social media regulation?
Last February 16, Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed a federal indictment accusing 13 Russians of conducting a massive online social media campaign with the intent of influencing the results of the 2016 Presidential elections in favour of then Republican candidate Donald J. Trump and to sow discord among the American people.
Mueller identified the Russian organization behind the online social media campaign as the Internet Research Agency which operated on a multi-million dollar budget financed by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close friend Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy businessman from St. Petersburg.
In the indictment, Internet Research Agency is mentioned seven times. By comparison, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were mentioned 35, nine and six times respectively. It should be noted that Instagram is owned by Facebook which bought the company in 2012. YouTube which is owned by search engine giant, Google, is mentioned once.
While Mueller did not directly implicate Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the indictment did expose the possibility of these popular social media platforms being exploited by well-funded and well-organized groups to support their political agenda.
The Russians designed a social media campaign built on creating fake accounts and online profiles using the stolen identities of Americans while buying paid ads to make it seem the purchases were made by Americans residing in the United States.
According to the indictment, the Russians hired social media specialists who worked day and night creating, publishing and distributing content that attacked Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and praised Trump. The social media specialists appeared to have been assigned from different countries as they had to adjust their work schedules according to U.S. time zones.
Many of the accounts set up by the specialists attracted tens of thousands of followers. These accounts included the Twitter account @TEN_GOP which supposedly represented the Republican Party from Tennessee and the Blactivist account on Facebook and Instagram.
Shortly after the 2016 Presidential election Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg refuted allegations that the Russians had used his company to distribute political propaganda to influence voters’ decisions. The details described in the indictment showed just how clueless Zuckerberg was on the abuse taking place inside his own platform.
Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have given their assurances that they have tightened up on moderation activity and vow to do more to prevent future exploitation of their networks.
What needs to be addressed is that as these platforms become more popular and gain in size, they slowly transition from a social media community into a media agency. Will the lure of greater income in the form of ad revenues compromise their responsibility to secure the platforms? Or is it time for Congress to regulate social media?