October 27, 2021


Stop. Go. Technology

Hold social media giants like Facebook and Twitter accountable for the harm they cause

Last week, responding to a letter I and other state attorneys general sent criticizing its plans for “Instagram for Kids,” Facebook hit the pause button on the idea.

Facebook’s halting of this product rollout came just after we learned that social media companies knew about negative impacts on kids from their products and just before Congress held hearings on the issue. According to investigative reporting, including by the Wall Street Journal last week, the company knew for years of the risks its products created for kids — yet despite knowing these risks, Facebook sat by and took no action to address them.

This recent news highlights the need to hold social media giants accountable — for the platforms’ impacts on kids, their circulation of misinformation that threatens democracy, the undermining and abuse of our privacy, and the harm to consumers and innovation by squashing competition.

The rise in digital technology presents both opportunities and challenges for parents. On the positive side, our kids’ generation has access to information that prior ones never had. But at the same time, the harms from social media — cyberbullying, shaming, and destructive peer pressures — call for action. Protecting children’s mental health is critical, particularly during formative years. Whether by calling out questionable products or protecting kids from inappropriate advertisements, we as a community must remain vigilant.

The threats to our democracy from misinformation and extreme political polarization should concern us all. Polls of how Americans view individuals from different political parties highlight the level of demonization that infects our politics, aided by social media algorithms that drive people into consuming more and more extreme content — and content designed to match (or exploit) their biases and preferences.

Manipulating users in this manner is destructive not only to our public discourse, but to democracy itself. Just consider reports and public court filings that detail how some of those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6th were incited and enabled by content they viewed on social media. Social media companies have a responsibility to police their platform, and we need new rules to ensure greater transparency and protection for our democracy.

Termed by some as “surveillance capitalism,” many social media companies’ business models are rooted in collecting and selling their users’ personal information. Consumers, however, are often not even aware their data is being collected. Consumers, for their own protection, should have the right to know when and how their data is gathered, stored, and used — and have the ability to say “no.”

Congress has long failed to enact robust and meaningful protections for data privacy.

In Colorado, by contrast, our General Assembly took action. Under recently enacted data privacy legislation, the Colorado Department of Law now has the enforcement tools necessary to protect consumer privacy in our online world. Those rules will ensure that consumers have access to data gathering information, can make choices about how their data is used, and can correct inaccuracies. Colorado should be proud of this accomplishment, as our state is just the third in the nation to enact such a law.