There’s suddenly a lot of talk about how governments need to regulate social media. From a public policy perspective, the immediate cause underlying this policy change is an egregious case of misuse of social media. Policy changes that arise out of crises can often go overboard in the policy instrument deployed.
Using the simple threefold classification of carrots, sticks, and sermons, it means that governments are more likely to use sticks rather than carrots or sermons in such cases. Under the garb of user protection, governments will use the ‘need for regulating the conniving social media‘ narrative to suppress dissent. So, assuming that at least a few governments will choose to intervene, which instrument should be used?
I would advocate for a sermons approach: the government can instruct social media companies to carry a user login banner which explicitly states that
the opinions on your timeline are not be verified and may not be reflective of the truth. User discretion is advised.
Think of the banner that appeared in the beginning of the World Wrestling Entertainment telecasts:
fights are performed by professionals solely for the purpose of entertainment. Any attempt by our fans to emulate our Superstars physicality is extremely dangerous and irresponsible.
The result was that there was no ambiguity in the minds of the viewer that WWE was an entertainment show and not a gladiator fight. Perhaps, a regulation of this kind has some lessons that are relevant now.