Franken: Regulate Social Media Companies

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Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota has blasted major tech companies including Amazon, Facebook and Google. In Franken's view, these companies enabled the Russian government's propaganda campaign during the 2016 election and have become monopolies without accountability.

On Nov. 8, Franken spoke at an anti-trust event hosted by the Open Markets Institute in Washington, D.C. Franken asserted during his remarks that tech companies had become too large and powerful.

"It is incumbent upon us to ask the broader questions," Franken said, according to The Guardian. "How did big tech come to control so many aspects of our lives? How is it using our personal information to strengthen its reach and bottom line? Are these companies engaging in anticompetitive behavior that restricts the free flow of information and commerce?"

The Minnesota senator suggested that Congress should consider slapping Silicon Valley with new regulations.

"The government has a responsibility to ensure that these corporations do not endanger our national security, our democracy and our fundamental freedoms ... these companies may not be up to the challenge that they've created for themselves," Franken added, according to Recode.

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Franken faulted Facebook for selling advertisements believed to be bought by Russian propagandists during the 2016 presidential election, Google for allowing illegal websites to turn up in its search results and Amazon for using "anticompetitive tactics to not only capture a market, but also maintain it, and ultimately use its platform to enter and dominate entirely new markets."

On Oct. 31, the general consuls of Facebook, Google and Twitter testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Facebook disclosed that more than 126 million of its users had been exposed to Russian propaganda during the 2016 election. Google said a Russian intelligence agency had uploaded more than 1,000 videos on YouTube and Twitter stated the same agency posted 131,000 on its platform, The New York Times reports.

During the hearing, Franken blasted Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch for his platform's inability to recognize that it had sold advertising space to Russian agents.

"How did Facebook, which prides itself on being able to process billions of data points and instantly transform them in the personal connections with its user, somehow not make the connection that electoral ads, paid for in rubles, were coming from Russia?" Franken asked Stretch.

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When Stretch explained that bad actors could use different forms of currency, Franken interjected, "My goal is for you to think through this stuff a little bit better."

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters after the hearing that Congress should consider regulation over social media platforms similarly to how it already regulates television.

"It's Russia today; it could be Iran and North Korea tomorrow," Graham said. "What we need to do is sit down and find ways to bring some of the controls we have on over-the-air broadcast to social media to protect the consumer."

Economist Hal Singer of George Washington University's Institute of Public Policy noted that major tech companies had avoided regulation for years because of their close ties to Congress but that their friendly relationship may have ended.

"It doesn't seem they have the same pull they used to," Singer told The Washington Post. "I don't think that Google should be getting exceptions because of its connections in D.C."

Sources: The Guardian, The New York TimesRecode, The Washington Post / Featured Image: Lorie Shaull/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Peabody Awards/Flickr, Anthony Quintano/Flickr

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