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  • Anannya Das

Proposed: A 2-Part Plan for Regulating Social Media

The first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” However, the idea that people can access dangerous information on the internet, like instructions for building a bomb, makes many people wonder whether the government can and should regulate the internet. Some of the most concerning internet content is produced by terrorists, who use the internet, especially social media, to recruit impressionable teenagers to their cause. I believe social media companies should be required by the U.S. government to educate their users about online terrorist propaganda, and if they fail to comply, these companies should be fined.

To understand how my proposal would be effective, one must first understand how terrorists recruit online. There are five recruitment stages: discovery of a potential recruit, creation of a micro-community around them, isolation of the potential recruit, a shift from public to private communications, and identification and encouragement to take action. Terrorist groups actively search for people, such as teenagers who feel alone, who use social media as a means to find a community. My plan to remove terrorist accounts addresses the issue of online terrorist recruitment in its entirety, which many previous solutions failed to do.

One commonly proposed solution is aimed at the target recruit. Theoretically, someone can interfere with the recruitment process by privately communicating with the target, but this is time-consuming and impractical when considering the hundreds of thousands of internet users every minute. Another strategy involved using social media analysis to identify ISIS recruiters based on what certain users post. The algorithms developed to handle this problem were inadequate, though, because they couldn’t sort through the massive number of posts uploaded to social media every day. Target intervention does not solve the problem of online terrorist recruitment; instead, we should focus on educating the public.

This has worked before. Anti-smoking campaigns in the 1960s reduced the smoking population by 50%, and anti-bullying campaigns have also been successful, though not on the same scale. To combat online terrorist recruitment, the initiative must be taken by social media companies, which can maintain educational, anti-terrorist “advertise-ments” on the home pages of their websites. These notices would be required by the federal government and monitored by state governments. Social media sites can also automatically trigger these advertise-ments after people visit terrorist accounts and/or follow them, in the same way they show advertisements for the clothing brands you follow. Unlike consumerist advertisements, anti-terrorist notices can encourage positivity in people who feel like they don’t belong and provide information on where to get help. Like other social ills, online recruitment can be judicially addressed by a nationwide campaign.

Currently, social media sites have little incentive to help prevent terrorist propaganda from reaching its users, which my plan addresses. Because the government would require social media companies to run this educational campaign, the government could also implement a financial penalty for companies that refuse. This gives much-needed motivation for companies to address the issue of terrorist recruitment on their platforms, especially if their fine would depend on the number of page loads for terrorist accounts on their site, for instance. Calculating these page loads requires time and money, providing further incentive to reduce the amount of terrorist propaganda.

The government must require social media sites to educate the public about online terrorist recruitment. Though my plan is not fool-proof, I believe it would at least reduce the number of terrorist recruiters on social media. Online terrorist recruitment often succeeds because the targets don’t fully understand how they are being manipulated. By educating the public, the government and social media sites can work together to stop terrorism’s spread within the U.S. borders.