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To Regulate or Not to Regulate?

Blog 5

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I want to start with an anecdote.

Recently, I, along with 240 concerned parents, was invited to join a private, closed Whatsapp Group. In the beginning, the public dialogue was informative, civil, and productive. Then recently, it became very political and contentious when residents began sharing political flyers and promoted their personal agendas. There was also mudslinging between citizens and elected officials. At one point, someone called someone else a “coach roach.” At that point, I sent a private message to the administrator, suggesting that there needs to be a rule stating, “Use civil language.”

I am sure that the administrator of the Whatsapp nor Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley titans did not foresee the political and social ramifications of the internet or any other forms of social media. As a result of public complaints and backlash concerning fake news, cyberscurity and violent content, the public is calling for more internet regulations. As reported on CNN, “Governments are rushing to regulate the internet. Users could end up paying the price,” there has been a “backlash from the public. Here is the link to the article: https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/08/uk/internet-regulation-uk-australia-intl-gbr/index.html.

Although I am a proponent of free speech, I believe that social media companies such as Facebook need to set specific guidelines and have more oversight of their content. The internet companies need to be held accountable. Even Mark Zuckerberg is “now pushing for more updated internet legislation.” Sarah T. Roberts, an assistant professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, urges that government push firms by telling them that “they’re going to lose access to an entire marketplace, they’re going to make it happen.” People need to complain and demand change.

What type of change? I do not believe that we need to rebuild the internet as Safiya Umoja Noble, an assistant professor in the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California, suggests in her article “Engine Failure.” We already have a robust technological framework. So, it is not necessarily an engine failure, but more of a leaky transmission.

We need to fix the transmission by hiring social scientists and diverse people in the tech field to provide different perspectives, as Joy Buolamwini suggests in her TedTalk “How I am Fighting Bias in Algorithms.” In other words, we cannot have a majority of white and Asian programmers and tech executives making all the decisions regarding internet policies. This field needs to diversified because of potential hidden biases in algorithms as shown in Buolamwini’s example of the programmers’ failure to consider darker skin shades when coding facial recognition technology, and the tech executives’ failure to catch the oversight. At the end of her TedTalk, she provides regulators with a feasible, sound solution: “Identify bias. Curate inclusively. Develop conscientiously.” (I appreciate the “curate inclusively” since we need to keep this tenet in mind when coding or selecting newsworthy. )

So, rather than tearing down the internet, let us implement these guidelines:

  1. Identify bias. 
  2. Curate inclusively. 
  3. Develop conscientiously.

Back to my WhatsApp story: After I had complained, the administrator informed the netizen that his use of the word “coach roach” was inappropriate and offensive.

So, we need more governmental regulations, even if it means encroaching on our freedom of speech.

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