Russian hearings: Difficult to police the platforms

November 2, 2017
Greta Guest


The hearings on Capitol Hill this week for Facebook, Twitter and Google revealed many problems the platforms face in policing content from fake news to political ads. University of Michigan experts share their insights on what’s ahead after the hearings on the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Marcus Collins, Marcus CollinsMarcus Collinsa lecturer in marketing at the U-M Ross School of Business, is senior vice president of social engagement at Doner, a Southfield-based advertising agency.

“It’s terribly difficult to police the platform — that is, the environments where people connect with their people — without policing people. It’s nearly impossible without creating burden for the innocent.

“Think of it like the TSA. There are a few bad apples in the bunch and since we can’t spot them as easily as we’d like, we have to put the burden on everyone. Ultimately, it creates an unpleasant environment. And not unlike the TSA and flight travel, there aren’t very many alternatives outside of these three platforms for people to connect.

“These three platforms could create filters and signals that identify potential nefarious behavior, but it comes with a cost in that people will have to censor themselves. Again, not unlike what we do when we fly.”


Erik Gordon, Erik GordonErik Gordonclinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, has expertise in entrepreneurship, technology commercialization, biomedical industry, venture capital and private equity.

“The media channels like Facebook and Twitter that are open to all content contributors face challenges they can’t win and one they can win — but have botched.

“They can’t win the challenge of being both a channel for real-time content created by a billion users and a channel whose content is censored. To win that challenge, each company would need a billion carefully-trained employees to monitor the billion content creators and quickly decide which content they will allow and which content they will censor.

“It may be impossible for Facebook and Twitter to meet the technical challenge of spotting fake news, and it may be dangerous for them to censor news that somebody gets to decide is fake. But there is one challenge the companies can meet: They can do more to identify posts that obviously are questionable.

“Political ads in a U.S. campaign paid for in Rubles are easy to spot and easy to classify as suspect. They gave politicians easy shots at Facebook and Twitter. The companies undermine the persuasiveness of their position that it is impossible to spot everything when they don’t spot even the obvious.

“On the other hand, politicians should be careful what they push for. Do we want the government deciding what Facebook and Twitter cannot let us read and see? That is a possibility, but it is a possibility that seems more Russian or Chinese than American.”

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