by. Todd Gurule

Social media has become a fundamental part of our daily lives, providing a place for people to reconnect with old friends, connect with new friends, share pictures of vacations, kids, and grandchildren, and express themselves. Social media has become so popular and ‘necessary’ for so many it has even been referred to as a drug because it is so addicting.

“When we use social media, our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. This feeling of pleasure can lead to compulsive behavior and a desire to seek out more likes, shares, and comments. In other words, social media can be just as addictive as drugs, gambling, and alcohol.” – Steven Paul Winkelstein

Social Media should be a safe place for everyone. However, social media platforms have been recently called out for their role in spreading misinformation, hate speech, and fake news. This has led to calls for social media reform to address these issues and ensure a safer and more responsible online community. Seriously, where did that hard turn come from where every post turns political and/or hateful in the comments section?

One of the main issues with social media is the lack of responsibility and accountability by both the specific social platform and its users. Social media platforms need to be clearer about their policies and how, why, and where they are enforced. The users need to pay close attention to these guidelines and adhere to them – seems easy enough. This will give the users a better and clearer understanding of what you can and cannot do on the platform. Also, this will hold social media companies responsible and accountable for the content that is posted on their platforms with stricter policies in place to remove harmful content such as hate speech, fake news, and misinformation.

More and more researchers are documenting the harm social media has potentially caused with children and young teenagers, citing specifically that rates in depression, anxiety and even suicide have shot up severely since the introduction of social media. The call for social media reform might be the loudest for these younger audiences. According to the Pew Research Center, 16% of teens use social media “almost constantly” during the day, and Common Sense, another nonprofit research group, reports that 1 in 3 wake up to check their phones at least once at night.

“The most common question parents ask me is, ‘is social media safe for my kids’. The answer is that we don't have enough evidence to say it's safe, and in fact, there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health.”  U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy

There certainly is an upside for social media reform. One prospective method of reform would be where the individual social media platform moderates the user posted content closer so hate speech can be curtailed. In addition, these platforms can look to implement a way to fact check information, as this would be an ideal approach to eliminate or cut down on gross misinformation and fake news being released/posted to the public. Currently there are multiple bipartisan proposals that aim to stem the dangers caused by social media. They include the Kids Online Safety Act that U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., reintroduced this session, as well as the American Data Privacy and Protection Act and the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act.

“I think there should be regulations on social media to the degree that it negatively affects the public good.” – Elon Musk

With an upside for social media reform, there is going to be a downside. If social media content does become more closely moderated, a line would need to be drawn and a balance created between free speech and censorship. Perceived censorship may reduce free thinking and the sharing of opinions. What such content might be harmful or offensive for one, that same content can be stimulating and thought provoking for another.

The debate of the pros and cons over social media reform will continue for the foreseeable future. Effective and meaningful social media reform is needed to address the issues that continue to exist on these platforms. By promoting transparency of policies, accountability, and protecting privacy, social media can be a better, safe place for people to enjoy (again). However, the argument exists that this enforcement of reform is going to be misconstrued as censorship or the removal of freedom of speech. With that said, will any type of official reform ever be put in place? If so, who is going to decide the parameters; the specific social media platform? Congress? Time is of the essence given the potential harm to our children, our security, and our democracy.