U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) has floated some proposed regulations on social media platforms in light of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and data tracking of its consumers. Axios initially obtained the Wagner’s white paper.

Warner breaks the proposed regulations that include requiring platforms to identify bots, giving the FTC privacy rulemaking authority and requiring social media algorithms to be auditable. 

Disinformation and Misinformation/Exploitation of Technology

  1. Dut to clearly and conspicuously label bots
  2. Duty to determine the origin of posts and/or accounts
  3. Duty to identify inauthentic accounts
  4. Make platforms liable for state-law torts (defamation, false light, public disclosure of private facts) for failure to take down deep fake or other manipulated audio/video content
  5. Public Interest Data Access Bill: “Legislation that guarantees that platforms above a certain size provide independent, public interest researchers with access to anonymized activity data, at scale, via a secure API. The goal would be to allow researchers to measure and audit social media trends on platforms.”
  6. Require interagency task force for countering asymmetric threats to democratic institutions
  7. Disclosure requirements for online political advertisements
  8. Public initiative for media literacy
  9. Increasing deterrence against foreign manipulation

Privacy and Data Protection

  1. Information fiduciary: A service provider “who, because of the nature of their relationship with users, assume special duties to respect and protect the information they obtain in the course of the relationships.”
  2. Give the Federal Trade Commission privacy rulemaking authority
  3. Offer comprehensive (GDPR-like) data protection legislation
  4. Require 1st party consent for data collection
  5. A statutory determination that so-called ‘dark patterns’ are unfair and deceptive trade practices (example: how Facebook Messenger prods users to upload their phone contacts to Facebook)
  6. Set mandatory standards for algorithms to be auditable to evaluate the algorithm outputs for “efficacy/fairness.”

Competition

  1. Offer a data transparency bill: “Legislation could require companies to more granularly (and continuously) alert consumers to the ways in which their data was being used, counterparties it was being shared with, and (perhaps most importantly) what each user’s data was worth to the platform.”
  2. Offer a data portability bill: Essentially, users would be endowed with property rights to their data. Wagner writes, “More modestly, (the bill would include) a requirement that consumers be permitted to port/transfer their data – in structured data, machine-readable format – without addressing the underlying ownership issue, would be more feasible.”
  3. Imposing an interoperability requirement on dominant platforms to blunt their ability to leverage their dominance over one market or feature into complementary or adjacent markets or products.
  4. Opening federal datasets to university researchers and qualified small business/startups
  5. Essential facilities determinations: “Legislation could define thresholds – for instance, user base size, market share, or level of dependence of wider ecosystems – beyond which certain core functions/platforms/apps would constitute ‘essential facilities,’ requiring a platform to provide third-party access on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms and preventing platforms from engaging in self-dealing or preferential conduct.”

The Problem

Warner’s 20 proposals represent a vast increase of regulation into a sector that has been largely unregulated. And it has flourished this way.

These proposed regulations represent a significant strain on resources by these platforms. It could also diminish what these platforms can offer consumers for free which is, ultimately, the most significant draw of many social media platforms. While some of the data privacy concerns are warranted, there is also a responsibility on the part of the consumer to read the fine print, to look at the privacy settings of a platform, and to make an informed decision about what data they are willing to provide. 

Also, the federal government’s concern about social media platform’s data mining practices is laughable since they are the most prominent data miner of all, and one of the proposals is to make those datasets available to third parties. Seriously?

I do not want to see the United States follow the European Union model which I find very onerous. 

Something to consider as well is that many social media platforms have already implemented some of these ideas already. Facebook and Twitter are addressing bots and fake news (not to say I appreciate all of their efforts). Also, Google and Twitter allow data portability. Many of these platforms allow third-party access. Facebook has addressed disclosure for political ads.

Much of this is totally unnecessary and would hamper the free market. 

Read the entire white paper below:

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