What Hath Russia Wrought? Possibly Government Regulation of Social Media Giants

After Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey appeared in Congress to defend their companies’ efforts to eradicate Russian and other foreign influence operations on their platforms, the Justice Department gave a stark warning that raises the specter of government regulation.

Here’s the statement from the Department of Justice:

“We listened to today’s Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms closely. The Attorney General has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.”

Leaving aside the allegations that the Silicon Valley giants are stifling conservative voices — that’s a story in and of itself involving feuding tech billionaires — there’s a bigger question here. Congress seemed skeptical that the tech giants are doing enough to clean up their platforms, and that’s a good question to ask: Is Silicon Valley able to clean up its own mess? Or is it outmatched against foreign governments who don’t have shareholders to keep happy?

Does that mean the government needs to step in and regulate them? Or should the government step up and do more to protect American companies — including Facebook and Twitter — against foreign intelligence operations?

Wherever the debate goes and whatever side of it you may be on, it’s a bedrock American principle that free speech is essential to an informed electorate. American Democracy says that every citizen has the right to express themselves, and at the same time, every citizen has the right to judge the validity of another’s opinion.

So when the cries about regulation ring out, the question worth asking is: what kind of regulation?