Stacey Kaliabakos ‘23
On March 4th, the McFarland Center for Religion Ethics and Culture hosted a webinar called Responsibilities of Social Media Companies in Repairing our Social Divisions. The talk featured three speakers, Richard “Dick” Freije, Daniel Klinghard, and Amit Taneja. Freije is an alum of Holy Cross (Class of 1981) and a recipient of a PhD in Math at Brown University. His career is focused on Cyber Law and its implications in American society. Professor Klinghard hails from the Holy Cross Political Science Department and is also the Director of the J.D. Power Center for Liberal Arts in the World. Finally, Amit Taneja is the Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the College.
Thomas Landy, the moderator of the discussion and Director of the McFarland Center, opened with his opinion on social media: it has played a significant role in inflaming division in our country, particularly because it is constituted by various “feedback loops of misinformation.” The overarching question that Landy provided was how could better content moderation “fix” the internet– in other words, are there any ways for social media companies to regulate their content to not only provide correct information, but to deliver it to their consumers in a palatable way? The three men had slightly variant opinions on the issue.
Dr. Freije opened by discussing Section 230, a law passed in 1996 that immunizes social media companies from lawsuits based on content posted on their platforms. He also talked about how the first amendment plays into why one can’t force social media companies to take hate speech off their platforms. However, Dr. Freije suggested that the way to minimize hate speech on the internet may be through reconsidering how the constitution can apply to it, specifically suggesting that perhaps instead of using it to regulate ideas, it can just regulate speech itself.
Professor Klinghard suggested three alternatives to speech restrictions: competition, working to give a voice to all people, and creating content that can build legitimacy. He said that a large problem with social media is that “there is an obsession with ‘owning’ the other side.” Therefore, what we need to fix this problem is a media that has the capacity to build trust among people rather than restricting their speech. Provost Taneja made a similar point, saying that there are valid cases on both sides of the argument for the regulation of social media. However, he also asked if there was a way in which we could have set standards around what is acceptable and what is not on the internet. Additionally, there must be a fair and proper way to enforce these rules (a Presidential commission that could come up with rules that would ultimately be passed by Congress, for example). A quote from Provost Taneja that stuck with me was “Moderating social media is treating the symptom– not the cause.”
As college students, we are constantly exposed to not only the beneficial aspects of social media, but the detrimental parts of it as well. Listening to the webinar made me realize that change in the culture of social media can start small, even at the individual level. As our school motto is “men and women for and with others,” I think we as Holy Cross students are well-equipped to start making social media a safer and kinder place for everyone.
Graphic Design by Hui Li ’21