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 hearingthat 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.

TAKE THE POLL: What do YOU think about Trump's federal indictment?

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Last month, Trump made history as the first U.S. President to be indicted. However, that instance was at the state level by Alvin Bragg, the Soros-backed Manhattan DA. Now, the DOJ has escalated the left's crusade against Trump to an all-new historic level: the Department of Justice federally indicted Trump, beckoning the former President to appear in federal court next week.

This is a new era of American politics.

While the Left says Trump should stand trial for his alleged crimes, Trump's supporters and conservatives more broadly feel that the Left is reducing America to a Banana Republic, using its power to attack its political opponents. Is Trump guilty of crimes? Is Trump's indictment a strategy to prevent him from winning in 2024?

We want to hear from YOU. What do YOU think about Trump's federal indictment? Tell us your thoughts in the below poll.

Do you support Trump's federal indictment?

Do you support Trump's state-level indictment?

Do you think the charges against Trump are legitimate?

Do you think the controversy around Trump's alleged possession of classified documents warrants a federal indictment?

Do you think the Biden administration is weaponizing itself against Trump because he's a major political opponent?

Do you think Trump will serve jail time?

Do you think this federal indictment will wreck Trump's 2024 Presidential campaign?

Does this indictment change your views on Trump?

Would you vote for Trump as the GOP nominee?

As many of you now know, Glenn has taken off for a much-deserved, two-week vacation with strict orders not to watch the news. Well, two weeks is a long time in the news world, and a LOT can happen while Glenn is away.

What do you think will happen while Glenn is away? Will Biden take another fall? Will the government finally confess knowledge of alien lifeforms? Let us know what you think below.

Will the Government confirm the existence of aliens? 

Is Biden going to fall again?

Will Kamala Harris become president?

Will Hillary Clinton announce her candidacy for president?

Will AI start an uprising?

Will World War III start?

Will Bud Light go out of business?

Will it be confirmed that Fidel Castro is Justin Trudeau's father?

Will California criminalize pianos due to their historic associations with the ivory trade?

Will Joe Biden give a speech where he recounts an encounter with Bigfoot?

How my family's Target boycott is affecting my wife (satire)

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If you've been tuning in this month, you'll know that my family and I have been boycotting Target since they released their problematic Pride collection. We are determined, but boy has it been difficult... particularly on my wife.

I'm not saying that I kept a diary of my wife's Target withdrawals... but I'm not saying that I didn't either.

Here are the "alleged" entries of my family's first week of boycotting Target.

Day 1

My wife began the day optimistic. Determined. She kept saying, "I can do it. I can do it. For the sake of what is right, I can do it."

For a moment there, I thought this boycott was going to be kind of easy. I thought she would bounce into action, and never look back.

At about noon on day one, she started to crack just a little bit. She looked at me and said, "The only jeans that fit me properly are from Target. Where am I going to get my jeans? What will I do without my favorite jeans?"

One weird thing. She has been speaking differently. It's almost like a nervous tick. Random words come out at random times. Day one, I kissed her good night and said, "I love you." She said, "I love Lindt Lindor Milk Chocolate Candy Truffles."

And I think that has something to do with Target, but I'm not really sure.

Day 2

My wife began laughing today... a LOT. But then, abruptly, her laughter broke into a disconcerting grimace that reminded me ever so slightly of a gargoyle.

I tried to remind myself, "This is going to be a good thing. This is going to make a difference," and my wife proceeded to give me a long-winded rant about how Satan tempted Jesus, and how this is my temptation in the desert. Shortly after, I found her reading her Bible in Matthew chapter 4, repeating, "40 days of THIS?!"

She tried to go to Walmart and even made it about 10 feet into the store... but then she sped home and took a shower for 45 minutes.

Day 3

Have you seen The Shining? The way Jack Nicholson slowly becomes unhinged?

It's beginning to feel like that on day three, at the house. Several times, I caught her petting picture frames. When I asked if everything was okay, she said, "I can't find gallery frames for an excellent price anywhere. You know. Think of the frames."

Later, I caught her piling bath bombs onto her side of the bed.

I said, "Honey, what are those for?"

And her answer was a little terrifying. I can't really remember. Only something about the onslaught of a war of sparkles and tiaras. So I don't know what that means.

And I didn't ask.

Day 4

The shakes have begun. Confusion has overtaken her eyes. Every couple of minutes she gasps and looks around, face full of panic.

She cries in agony, "WHERE will I find oversized blouses?" She gasps again, "What if somebody has a birthday? Where am I going to go? Where am I going to go? What if there is a birthday?"

Day 5

Midway through lunch, my wife shrieked, realizing she was only seven decorative pillows away from an empty bed top.

Our day somehow got worse when news broke that Chip and Joanna Gaines had just released their new candle trough.

That was day five.

Day 6

The rations have vanished.

The boycott now has begun to affect the family's food supply. This morning, I asked my wife, "Do we have any milk?

My wife whispered, "Don't you know where the milk comes from? Don't you know where I get the milk?"

I answered, my voice quivering, "Milk? What milk? I don't need any milk!"

She was almost out of Meyers soap and nearly caved when the revelation kicked in that she might have to go to Walmart.

To make matters worse, Target had just released their new Meyers fall scents, including, but not limited to pumpkin spice—and if you don't have pumpkin spice Meyers soap, who are you, really?

Then things really spiraled when she needed to pick up Starbucks honey flat white and some new laundry detergent. For the first time in a long time, this was going to require TWO stops, and let me tell you, those two stops did not make her happy.

At bedtime, she locked herself into the guest bedroom and insisted on being left alone.

Day 7

For the first day, I have a little hope.

The whole thing was awful. Terrible. Miserable. Heartbreaking.

But still not bad enough to make me or any of my friends want to chug down a Bud Light.

Do aliens... EXIST? Or is it a distraction?

Rastan | Getty Images

Yesterday, whistleblower David Charles Grusch, a decorated Air Force veteran claimed the Department of Defense has a secret team aimed at "retrieving non-human origin technical vehicles, call it spacecraft if you will, non-human exotic origin vehicles that have either landed or crashed."

Talk about UFOs and aliens has typically been siloed to the realm of sci-fi and "conspiracy theories." However, in recent years, publicized evidence of UFOs and whistleblowers, like David Grusch, have brought the once fantastical subjects into the mainstream. Could it be that alien life forms do, in fact, exist? Have they already arrived and been kept secret underneath the government's nose? Or could this all be a ruse to distract us from more pressing stories in the news cycle?

We want to hear from YOU! Do YOU think aliens and UFOs are a distraction tactic, or do you think there's truth behind these whistleblowers?

Do you believe the government has intel about UFOs?

Do you believe the government has intel about alien life?

Do you believe the government is hiding this intel from the general public?

Do you believe alien life exists? 

Do you think the media is using this story to distract us from other issues?