3 ways Congress could hold Facebook accountable

By Anjana Susarla and Bhaskar Chakravorti and Ryan Calo—The Dialog 4 minute Learn

Let customers management extra of their information

Anjana Susarla, professor of data techniques, Michigan State College


Social media websites like Facebook are designed for fixed interplay to interact customers’ consideration. To rein in Facebook, lawmakers should first perceive the harm that results from algorithmic manipulation on these platforms. One factor Congress could do is make certain Facebook provides customers extra management over what information the corporate collects about them and why.

Most individuals who use Facebook are unaware of how algorithmic suggestions have an effect on their expertise of the platform and thereby the knowledge they interact with. For instance, political campaigns have reportedly tried to manipulate engagement to get extra traction on Facebook.

A key facet of offering such transparency is giving customers higher entry to and management over their information, much like what’s proposed in California’s Consumer Privacy Act. This might permit customers to see what private information Facebook collects about them and the way the corporate makes use of it. Many individuals don’t notice that Meta has the power to make inferences about their political preferences and attitudes toward society.

A associated subject is data portability tools and rights that permit customers to take the information, together with photographs and movies, that they shared on Facebook to different social media companies. Offering customers with extra management over their information will go a great distance in guaranteeing impartial accountability and oversight of Facebook’s operations.

Mandating transparency

Ryan Calo, professor of regulation, College of Washington

In October 2020, Facebook despatched a cease-and-desist letter to New York University researchers who had been investigating the unfold of misinformation on the location by means of political advertisements. The corporate advised NYU that scraping its platform violated Facebook’s phrases of service, and it threatened “extra enforcement motion” ought to the apply proceed. In August 2021, Facebook terminated the accounts of two researchers and minimize off NYU’s and its companions’ entry to its political advert repository.

Firms like Meta are (*3*) on their platforms. The general public hears about points like misinformation and bias largely by means of the efforts of researchers, journalists, and inside whistleblowers.


Congress holds the facility to remain Meta’s hand with regards to threatening authorized motion or blocking accountability analysis. Congress could, for instance, add a analysis exemption to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which might protect researchers from the specter of lawsuits for utilizing information not explicitly licensed by a social media firm, or shield workers from retaliation.

Congress could go additional nonetheless: It could mandate transparency. Nothing about free speech doctrine or platform immunity prohibits the federal government from imposing auditing or reporting necessities for social media. The Federal Reserve embeds regulators in nationwide banks. Why shouldn’t Meta—an organization with a $900 billion market capitalization and ambitions to spawn a metaverse—must open its operations to scrutiny?

Another strategy to creating Meta pay

Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of worldwide enterprise, the Fletcher Faculty, Tufts College

I’ve a practical suggestion for what the federal government would possibly do about Meta. When New York Occasions columnist Farhad Manjoo recently posed this question to specialists, they got here again with quite a few options. Finally, Manjoo concluded that with the deep political divide in Congress, “doing nothing often is the likeliest final result.”

I, too, agree it’s probably the most believable state of affairs. However, one truth is incontrovertible: Meta is below stress proper now, and the federal government can use this leverage to extract speedy advantages for society no matter what occurs down the street.

There’s a bigger drawback than Massive Tech’s lack of accountability: Almost half of all Americans can’t use the web at broadband speeds. That is unacceptable in a post-pandemic world, the place high-speed web has proved important. Broadband web can also be unaffordable for a lot of.

Even the $65 billion earmarked for broadband within the infrastructure bill simply authorised by Congress isn’t sufficient to shut America’s huge digital divide. My Digital Planet analysis group at Tufts has estimated that the true price of closing the infrastructure access gap is $240 billion—leaving a $175 billion shortfall.

Lawmakers could use the stick of regulation to get the corporate to conform to blanket the nation with broadband. Meta already has two packages it could use to shut gaps in each rural and urban areas.

On the similar time, Congress could levy a tech tax on digital advertisements bought by Facebook and different social networks to subsidize telecommunication service in high-cost areas.

By giving extra folks entry to high-speed web, Meta will profit by rising the quantity of people that could finally be a part of its metaverse. Whereas which will appear counterproductive, the ills of Facebook are outweighed by the higher ills of huge swaths of the U.S. with folks unable to make use of the web for important companies as a result of we couldn’t elevate sufficient cash to shut the hole.