The Current

We should regulate Facebook just like we did cars, says professor

Facebook has been on the defensive this week, after allegations about how it handled crises like privacy breaches. And one professor of media studies says Facebook is disrupting democracy.

In wake of New York Times investigation, Facebook denies it covered up several crises

Facebook has come under fire recently for how it has handled data breaches and other issues. (David Donnelly/CBC)
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A professor and author who has written about Facebook says the social media giant needs to be regulated, because it has become the "perfect platform" for disrupting democracy.

"Facebook is designed to propagate stuff that generates strong emotions, like hateful propaganda," said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, and author of Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy

Siva Vaidhyanathan is a professor at the University of Virginia. (Siva Vaidhyanathan/Twitter)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg "hasn't thought deeply about what he has built, and how the variety of human cruelty could find a home on it," Vaidhyanathan told The Current's Michelle Shephard.

"He is checked out from the day-to-day operations," he added.

Recently, Facebook has faced a number of crises — from users' data being mined by third parties, to the proliferation of fake news, to accusations about the platform being used to influence U.S. elections.

On Wednesday, a New York Times investigation alleged Facebook dealt with those crises by trying to cover up mistakes. Facebook said in a statement that there are "a number of inaccuracies in the story." 

CBC News has not independently verified the allegations.

The question of regulation

Vaidhyanathan isn't optimistic that Facebook will face more regulations in the near future.

He also acknowledged that the platform is important to billions of individual users who use it to connect with each other.

"It's just collectively a disaster," he said. 

"Just like my car is good to me, and I like my car — but collectively our cars are a disaster," he told Shephard.

"In this case we really have to act as citizens, just like we took on the negative externalities of cars — the pollution, the death toll on the highways — and we insisted that our leaders appropriately regulate that technology in our lives."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

The Current asked Facebook for a comment, but did not hear back.

Facebook issued a statement Thursday denying it knew about Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, and arguing it has attempted to fight false news and misinformation.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page.


Produced by The Current's Alison Masemann, Cameron Perrier, Sarah-Joyce Battersby.

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