Congress is just using 'Russian bots' as a reason to finally regulate social media

Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have an interest in controlling social media. On September 5, Attorney General Jeff Session announced plans to meet with state attorneys general to discuss possible regulation of social media over concerns that platforms are stifling conservative speech. On September 13, Senator Mark Warner, the Senate Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, remarked on this heavy bipartisan support for future regulations at a conference hosted by The Atlantic on digital privacy. "Depending on how we framed it, I think we'd have an overwhelming majority," Warner said, noting that he thinks it's likely citizens no longer desire unconstrained liberty in their internet usage. "I think there is a high chance that people realize that the days of the wild, wild west are over—that there needs to be some guardrails."

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Every day, Congress is nearing implementation of these online guardrails. On September 5, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, explaining how foreign intelligence agencies were able to use their social media platforms to spread disinformation throughout the 2016 election. Indeed, the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Kremlin-linked company specializing in online operations to promote Russian interests, created thousands of political ads and fake pages intended to sow division. Dorsey even described the Russian social media campaign as one comprised of "abuse, harassment, troll armies, propaganda through bots and human coordination, disinformation campaigns and divisive filter bubbles."

All these concerns may have merit, but opening the door for government regulation of social media is a cure far worse than the disease. The federal government, which operates a massive surveillance program through the National Security Agency, isn't exactly the best gatekeeper of user privacy and data. Neither is government the best choice to determine what constitutes "fake news" considering how one of the jobs of the press is to hold government accountable. Allowing the government to decide what is acceptable content is a surefire path to harsher censorship than Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg could dream of.

Facebook should take steps to prevent fraudulent accounts from spreading disinformation, but it's a task for them, not Congress.

But, in relation to the actual extent of the Russian disinformation campaign, Congress' steps toward interference in social media seem absurd. Facebook revealed in last year's November hearing that the Russian Internet Research Agency spent only $46,000 on pre-election Facebook ads. In terms of funding, that's remarkably minimal. Compared to the $81 million spent by the Trump and Clinton campaigns, that sum likely had little influence in voter decision-making. What the Russians did was fraudulent, but it's important to understand the scale of the Russian operation before making the case that Congress should intervene.

It's true that millions of Americans saw the Russian ads and clicked "like" on fake profile pages created by the IRA, but that illicit content still made up a miniscule fraction of what social media users saw on a daily basis. A Facebook report published on April 27, 2017, stated that the reach of known operations during the 2016 election was less than one-tenth of a percent of the total reach of civic content. Facebook should take steps to prevent fraudulent accounts from spreading disinformation, but it's a task for them, not Congress. Even if Facebook could remove all Russian propaganda from their site, users are still exposed to content created by their friends. Ultimately, ordinary Americans are just as capable of creating and sharing fake news or divisive political memes as Russian intelligence agents.

Before handing the reins over to lawmakers, social media users should make an effort to protect their own data and decide what content they want to see. And it can be done, but, unfortunately, a recent Pew Research poll found that most Facebook users are unaware of how their newsfeed works. Of the 4,594 surveyed U.S. adults, 53 percent said they didn't understand why certain posts appeared on their feed while others didn't. Yet, this isn't Congress's problem to fix.

People have means of controlling for themselves what they read on social media. Facebook allows its users the ability to prioritize the content they want to see and hide the posts they'd rather ignore. Users can even temporarily unfollow a friend if they find their long-winded political rants annoying. Despite having these tools, only 14 percent of those Pew surveyed said they had a lot of control over their Facebook experience. Yet, a majority of users—63 percent— said they haven't once tried to influence the content they see. Aaron Smith, associate director of research at Pew Research Center, described this as a major contributing factor in fake news consumption: "Whether or not someone has made an effort to influence the content of their own news feed is often linked with their sense that users have control over the content that appears there."

People ought to take responsibility for their own news consumption.

Concern over social media is fueled, in part, by a lack of understanding of how these networks actually work. And Congress, ever-anxious to put regulations where they shouldn't be, is generating needless panic to exacerbate the problem. But the truth remains that social media users have, in their own hands, the tools for curating their experience online. A user can fact-check and unfollow fake news—whether from a Russian bot or a friend at work. But it should be up to the user to determine the validity of the content they see, not some bureaucrat in Washington. People ought to take responsibility for their own news consumption. No one else is qualified enough for the job.

Lindsay Marchello is a Young Voices Contributor and an Associate Editor with the Carolina Journal. Follow her on Twitter.@LynnMarch007.

Sen. Ted Cruz: NOBODY should be afraid of Trump's Supreme Court justice pick

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) joined Glenn Beck on the radio program Wednesday to weigh in on President Donald Trump's potential Supreme Court nominees and talk about his timely new book, "One Vote Away: How a Single Supreme Court Seat Can Change History."

Sen. Cruz argued that, while Congressional Democrats are outraged over President Trump's chance at a third court appointment, no one on either side should be afraid of a Supreme Court justice being appointed if it's done according to the founding documents. That's why it's crucial that the GOP fills the vacant seat with a true constitutionalist.

Watch the video below to hear the conversation:

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Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) joined Glenn Beck on the radio program Wednesday to talk about why he believes President Donald Trump will nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death.

Lee, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will consider and vote on the nominee, also weighed in on another Supreme Court contender: Judge Barbara Lagoa. Lee said he would not be comfortable confirming Lagoa without learning more about her history as it pertains to upholding the U.S. Constitution.

Watch the video below to hear the conversation:

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This week on the Glenn Beck Podcast, Glenn spoke with Vox co-founder Matthew Yglesias about his new book, "One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger."

Matthew and Glenn agree that, while conservatives and liberals may disagree on a lot, we're not as far apart as some make it seem. If we truly want America to continue doing great things, we must spend less time fighting amongst ourselves.

Watch a clip from the full interview with Matthew Yglesias below:


Find the full podcast on Glenn's YouTube channel or on Blaze Media's podcast network.

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'A convenient boogeyman for misinformation artists': Why is the New York Times defending George Soros?

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On the "Glenn Beck Radio Program" Tuesday, Glenn discussed the details of a recent New York Times article that claims left-wing billionaire financier George Soros "has become a convenient boogeyman for misinformation artists who have falsely claimed that he funds spontaneous Black Lives Matter protests as well as antifa, the decentralized and largely online, far-left activist network that opposes President Trump."

The Times article followed last week's bizarre Fox News segment in which former House Speaker Newt Gingrich appeared to be censored for criticizing Soros (read more here). The article also labeled Glenn a "conspiracy theorist" for his tweet supporting Gingrich.

Watch the video clip below for details:


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