A small handful of tech companies dominate the online speech environment, and any reform proposal – whether focused on improving competition in the sector, strengthening privacy, or giving the consumer more power – will have a far-ranging impact on the way users communicate and access information online. What would breaking up Facebook mean for monitoring and curbing the spread of misinformation? How would new privacy protections change the way the platforms advertise to users, and what might that mean for phenomena like filter bubbles or micro-targeting? How can we ensure that new regulatory efforts are not deployed in a politicized manner, aimed at protecting or suppressing particular viewpoints or speakers?
We need to move beyond elevator-pitch proposals to an in-depth consideration of their expected consequences. There are enough questions to fill a whole evening of debate – which would be a real contribution to the public’s understanding of online speech issues as well – but, failing that, each candidate should release a detailed plan of action for digital platforms and what changes they hope to see. In the meantime, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia is holding a symposium to dig in on some of these questions on November 14 and 15 – campaign staffers, you’re invited too!