Increased Regulation. The Lesser of Two Evils?

While it’s sometimes easy to believe that our liberties are being curbed by runaway government oversight, the current decade actually has much of the Western world living in almost complete freedom. In fact, according to criteria like security, movement, personal identity and expression, New Zealand is the second most free country in the world, after Switzerland. 

That statement comes directly from the World Population Review’s Freedom Index, which also counts the strength of local regulation as a factor in how much freedom the average person has. Do we need more or less red tape to be free and safe, though? In some situations, especially in emerging technology, it could appear that increased regulation is the crux of modern peace.

“Let’s start with social media. Research published on the ExpressVPN website indicates that Facebook and co. can be difficult places to remain safe from cyberbullying largely due to the number of ways other people have to interact with you. As an example, tagging a location before you’ve left can set you up for unwanted attention and even stalking by just about anyone, depending on your privacy settings. 

The general consensus among governments and watchdogs is that social media companies haven’t done enough to deal with cyberbullying. Now, small legal firms are attempting to hold web giants responsible for anything negative that occurs as a consequence of this inaction. The Social Media Victims Law Center of Seattle is a good example, although, its aims might be a bit too lofty considering its list of opponents.

Conspiracy Theories

This kind of solution falls short of regulation but it nevertheless hints at a need to control powerful social media firms. It’s actually possible to forget about social media entirely and still have much the same conversation. Cryptocurrency, which is also unregulated, is in a perilous position (Bitcoin is down 70% on its late 2021 value) while NFTs finally seem to be losing the limelight due to a complete lack of standards for the industry.

Extra regulation would significantly enhance customer safety at the cost of losing the anti-establishment nature of crypto. Social media users would fare much better, as there really isn’t much for the average Snapchatter or Instagrammer to lose. The one potential problem is whether regulators would have sway over what users could post, potentially stifling certain views at opportune moments.

Of course, whether real or imaginary, there will always be conspiracy theories about what thoughts the government is beaming into our brains today, so regulation is always going to be viewed as a negative concept. It may be the lesser of many evils, though, as unfashionable a comment as that is. At present, there’s simply no need for social media pages to pay anything more than lip service to safety requests. 

What would regulation actually look like? Using the UK as an example, a statutory duty of care for “online content providers” would be the first step towards safer social media platforms. This would include mandatory reporting and complaints forms, harm assessments, and steps to reduce problematic content. The major gripe is that it would involve the UK Crime Agency, too, something that may be a step too far for people who don’t like enforcement bodies nosing around.

In any case, both new and old parts of the internet could be facing seismic changes to how they operate in the near future.