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Chris Anderson and James Currier

How to Provide Real Oversight of Social Media

Print might be dead, but an old model for accountability — the ombudsman — might be more necessary than ever in the face of online misinformation and extremism.

Needs oversight.

Needs oversight.

Photographer: Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner/Bloomberg

As you watch yet another congressional hearing where social media CEOs awkwardly put on suits and ties to defend the indefensible to the uncomprehending, you couldn’t be blamed for feeling hopeless. Our long-standing policies for regulating traditional media have collapsed in the face of user-generated content, with networks of tens of millions of people creating it in real time at no cost. And it’s not just members of Congress who are ineffectually shaking their fists at the spread of misinformation and extremism on social media platforms; the executives of these companies themselves also seem powerless to do much more than keep abuse to a dull roar, offending defenders of free speech and defenders of civil discourse in equal measure.

Most policy proposals to keep abuses of social media in check range from the bad to the worse. Breaking up Big Tech may appeal to antitrust lawyers, but a YouTube that’s no longer part of Google isn’t less likely to host anti-vaccination propaganda. Revoking Section 230 protections — which provide companies legal immunity from content their users post — for entities that host content would essentially kill them.