Social media encourage our worst instincts in part due to the limitations of the platforms. People who browse through information on their tablets and mobile phones are more likely to respond to histrionic headlines and vivid graphics. Journalists know that dramatic stories get more clicks, which has led to a general decline in temperate reporting and a rise in Jim Acosta-style grandstanding — not to mention lower public trust in the media. And it isn’t just journalists — anyone in the virtual world can zap out thoughtless, angry comments that they might never express in person. If Twitter banned all hateful speech they would probably lose 75 percent of their traffic.
It would be a mistake to look to the government to control the information flow, as some Senate Democrats are discussing. Once we start down that road we could wind up in a situation like China, where the government rates citizens using a system of “social credits” that rewards behavior the state approves of and punishes that which Beijing frowns on. The expression “Facebook jail” could take on a new, more literal meaning.
This doesn’t mean the government has no role to play. The White House could ban these firms from government contracts until they clean up their act.