Social Media

Does the Government Need To Fix Social Media? A Soho Forum Debate

Professor Jonathan Haidt of NYU debates Reason's Robby Soave.


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Are platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram harming Americans in ways that government regulation could help correct?

On Thursday, February 17, Jonathan Haidt and Robby Soave had an Oxford-style debate on the role of government regarding social media before a capacity crowd at the Sheen Center in downtown Manhattan. It was hosted by the Soho Forum, a monthly debate series sponsored by Reason. Soho Forum Director Gene Epstein served as moderator.

Haidt, professor of ethical leadership at New York University and co-founder of Heterodox Academy, defended the debate resolution, "The federal government should increase its efforts to reduce the harms caused by social media."

Soave, who took the negative, is a senior editor at Reason and author of the recently published Tech Panic: Why We Shouldn't Fear Facebook and the Future. He argued that widespread criticisms of social media stem from our innate—and misguided—distrust of new technology. Soave also contended that, for all its flaws, social media confers huge net benefits, and that the application of "government force" is likely to do far more harm than good.

Haidt, author of a recent article in The Atlantic on social media's harm to mental health, pointed out that while the platforms were not initially designed for people under 18, those individuals have arguably been its victims. Haidt likened the platforms to sugar—best taken in moderation.

Narrated by Nick Gillespie. Edited by John Osterhoudt. Additional graphics by Lex Villena. Event photography by Brett Raney.

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    1. Yeah, trick question.

  1. Does the government need to fix social media? No. Does the government want to? Yes.

    The questions is: Will the government "fix" social media? If recent events are any indicator, the answer is "yes, without doubt."

    The threat of "misinformation" is far too great, but the desire to control free speech also coincides with the general trend of collapsing empires focusing inward once their international clout dissolves.

  2. That all depends on who is in charge. Principals, not principles.

  3. The best solution would be for people to sue social media companies whose terms of service are so vague and so in conflict with their marketing as to be meaningless, arbitrary, and capricious. But the US legal system is geared towards making that kind of action as slow and ponderous and expensive as possible, leaving social media companies unaccountable for their hypocrisy and lies.

    I'd say second best solution is making them common carriers. I don't like it, I don't think government has any business meddling in other people's business. But .... if the choice is between government making accountability impossible, and government imposing some accountability on top of impossible private accountability, I'd prefer some poor accountability rather than none.

    1. Agreed. There are actually more than just two solutions, but S230 really reduces it to a 'Congress shall make law...' v. 'Congress shall make no law...' argument.

      I could see better/best solution of a 'good faith' law crafted around loser pays and the clarity of TOS (i.e. a small company that doesn't/can't moderate up front with a ToS that says "Don't post nudity." gets sued by a troll and doesn't have to pay but a large company that says who can't join up front, kicks people off after they've joined, bans for life, points to vague ToS violations, coordinates banning with other platforms, etc. doesn't qualify for loser pays protection even if the small company and the large company are the same company separated by a few years), but S230 precludes that.

    2. You can always not use their services. Sears customer service was terrible and look at them now. Deregulation is the ultimate key, get rid of capital controls that keep money from flowing to startups and competition will handle the rest.

      1. Sears customer service was terrible and look at them now.

        Like *now* now? Or just 'now'?

        Deregulation is the ultimate key

        Wouldn't repealing S230 be deregulation?

        1. "Wouldn't repealing S230 be deregulation?"

          Some folks round here don't like that being pointed out.

        2. Wouldn't repealing S230 be deregulation?

          It would, just don't see how it would solve the issue. I don't understand how being able to sue Youtube for libel over a video someone else posted is going to make them more open to allowing a wide range of content. Also not sure why anyone thinks they have a right to post something on a site they 1) don't pay for 2) don't own.

          1. Sometimes a Great Notion
            February.24.2022 at 4:17 pm

            Wouldn't repealing S230 be deregulation?

            It would. I understand.

            Good to see that you agree with me.

      2. I have to laugh at this. The last time I used Sears 30+ years ago, I was standing in a long line after struggling to find six or seven items (vacuum cleaner is the only one I remember, but ~$300). After about five minutes I dropped everything right there, left, and never returned.

        1. Circa The Bankruptcy I got a great deal on a freezer for the garage. Half the shelves and floor space in the place were empty. The cashier asked if I wanted the warranty/service plan. I laughed.

          Apparently, some people didn't and paid money for a service plan that Sears is no longer supporting. Don't know if they should win. Do know that bad things would happen if companies could broadly take money for warranties they can't or won't support.

      3. ...except they steal your data whether you use them or not. That is a bit of a problem.

        Do not see why it is viewed as a negative for expecting them to abide by the rules they themselves set up.

        Twitter allegedly has a rule on doxxing...but it does not seem to be a problem if you're doxxing people on the Right as much as it would be if you doxxed a Leftie.

  4. Government fixing something....LMAO!!!

    1. About as credulous and more principled than "*Something* was broken until Feb. 8, 1996, then the government fixed it."

  5. Here's Exhibit 1 against using the government to fix social media: Meta's stock price

    On February 2, 2022, Meta's stock price closed at $322.99.

    On February 3, 2022, Meta's stock price opened at $245.90, a 29.9% drop.

    That drop wiped out hundreds of billions of dollars in investors' money, and it personally cost Zuckerberg more than $30 billion.

    The reason the bottom fell out of such a large company so quickly is because their earnings fell, and the reason their earnings fell is largely attributable to Apple's decision to block cross-app tracking on their apps for advertisers. It turns out that privacy is something a lot of consumers care about, and Apple decided to differentiate their product from the Android ecosystem this way.

    Meta's stock has continued to fall since then--it's down about another 19.5% since the initial drop. This is largely attributable to Google's decision to follow Apple in blocking cross-app tracking in their ecosystem.

    Who expects the government's solutions to be more effective than the markets fining Zuckerberg $30 billion for failing to serve the needs of users over advertisers?

    Meanwhile, younger users are failing to sign up for Facebook or Instagram anymore--which is the whole reason behind Zuckerberg's push to the Metaverse. TikTok and Snapchat are kicking Facebook's and Instagram's ass so thoroughly with customers that Zuckerberg is changing the whole direction of his company, and you expect the government's solution to be more effective than that?

    The obvious reason kids prefer Snapchat is because on Snapchat their posts don't hang there forever, setting them up so they can be bullied by woke mobs from school for saying the wrong thing in the wrong way. The lack of kids signing up is killing Facebook and Instagram . . . and you think the government's solution will be better than that?

  6. Just tax the fk out of it.

    1. Like Justy is doing to the truckers!

  7. "The federal government should increase its efforts to reduce the harms caused by social media."

    I find opposition to this statement from someone who intentionally fails to distinguish assault from bullying and then insists schools should do more to prevent kids from being bullied to be fundamentally unprincipled.

  8. Simply agreeing to debate whether 'limits' should be allowed based on nebulous claims and anecdotes moves you closer to an authoritarian government.

  9. Social media is todays town square for free speech.

    If there was one unambiguous form of speech that was responsible for all corruption, all conflict and had no redeeming qualities, would you support criminalizing it?

    Criminalize lying.

    Does criminalizing gun crime violate 2a? Neither does criminalizing lying violate 1a.

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