Today Issue One and its Council for Responsible Social Media (CRSM) released “Dangerous by Design,” a new report underscoring the widespread and ongoing threats and harms that social media companies are causing to kids, national security, and democracy. This report demonstrates why Congress needs to enact responsible safeguards for social media companies and hold them accountable for the damage they are causing.
“The facts are simple: Social media companies are harming our society, threatening our national security, and undermining the fabric of our democracy, yet Congress has still failed to take action,” said Alix Fraser, director of Issue One’s Council for Responsible Social Media. “This report highlights the depth of the problem we face and should serve as a wake up call that it is time for meaningful reform. Unless they are forced to change their behavior, Big Tech will always place profits above children, national security, and democracy. We must enact commonsense solutions to protect what matters most before it’s too late.”
The new “Dangerous by Design” report provides a comprehensive overview of the escalating risks at play as unchecked social media companies continue to accelerate polarization, amplify extremism, and challenge the rule of law. The proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to make everything bad about social media worse.
Among the key areas covered in the report:
- The spread of false information, including deepfakes generated by bad actors, meant to divide Americans and undermine democracy.
- The risks to U.S. national security as social media makes it easier for foreign adversaries to access private information, track users, and spread lies — all while weakening democracy in the United States.
- The harms social media causes to children. Social media companies target children and teens with addictive practices and manipulative algorithms, contributing to dramatically higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.
- The growing civic disengagement that makes us vulnerable to the anti-democratic agendas of our adversaries. If the next generation is raised entirely on angst, fear, and sophisticated online content that’s impossible to identify as real, they’ll be primed to actively reject the results of democratic elections and disengage from civic participation.
- The algorithmic amplification of extremist content, which will create a reality rife with radicalization and plagued with polarization.
- The rise of online threats against elected officials and election workers. Lies spread online about our electoral system have contributed to threats against election officials and poll workers.
The report also points to what can be done to avert the crisis we face and ensure that social media provides benefits to society, supports our well-being, and promotes democracy. Specifically, the report calls on federal solutions to be guided by core principles, including:
- Our children, our communities, and our national security must come first. No longer can Big Tech be allowed to design addictive products, harvest user data, and manipulate users to maximize their profits with no regard to the consequences.
- Americans have a fundamental right to privacy. Congress must stop social media platforms from collecting our information without permission, and collect only the data they need to operate effectively and in the interest of consumers.
- Social media platforms must no longer be used as tools by foreign and domestic adversaries. Congress must mitigate the ability for bad actors to use social media to sow district in American institutions, recruit and radicalize, and threaten our national security.
- Social media companies must stop using algorithms to elevate the most extreme content. Algorithms that amplify inflammatory content, filter users into rabbit holes of questionable content, and recommend joining hate groups must be redesigned.
- Social media products must protect the mental, physical, and developmental health of American children by design and by default. The bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), for instance, follows a “safety by design” format and would mandate the strongest safety settings possible by default and give kids tools to disable addictive product features.
- Social media companies’ core business model must be fundamentally changed away from the pervasive monitoring, tracking, and sale of user data. Comprehensive privacy protections are crucial to restore user ownership of their own data and end social media’s extractive, manipulative practices. The bipartisan Platform Accountability and Transparency Act (PATA), for instance, would create a framework for independent, vetted researchers to analyze the design and operations of the major social media platforms.