Should Social Media be Considered a Public Utility?
First I will acknowledge that the reality that Social Media is structurally very different than current public utilities like water and electricity, so I am not suggesting state-sponsored monopolies. However, the ubiquity and near necessity of many social media platforms for individuals to operate in their daily lives create an environment that should probably involve more government oversight. The simple fact that platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter can have a monumental impact on public discourse means that they have a potential impact on civil liberties.
To ensure equitable access and individual privacy, it may be a good idea to create a new class of public utility that allows for the private ownership of systems, but creates a climate where those private entities are more accountable to the public. Classifying these systems as public utilities would require them to follow constitutional standards of privacy, transparency, and public access. In addition, regulators could have more clarity into how core algorithms are working and what inherent biases might be running in the background.
For the sake of ease and innovation, we could classify any social media platform that is regularly used by a certain percentage of the U.S. population as a public utility. As soon as a platform passes that threshold regulators could step in, inspect the platform, and ensure that it meets robust standards of transparency and equal access. This standard should also apply to tools like Amazon which has become a natural monopoly in online commerce.
Creating this new type of public utility could be a simple first step in reigning in some of the unregulated growth of tech monoliths which have an outsized influence the in way society operates today. An increase in oversight would add responsible check and balances to the systems that Americans use every day to manage their lives, and communicate with their families.