The metaphor of the marketplace of ideas is under siege with its detractors pointing to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites as proof positive that the model is no longer operative. The surprising outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the concomitant focus on the scourge of “fake news” have placed Internet platforms at the center of controversy. Commentators evince an increasing skepticism of whether a free market for ideas and for facts is in the best interest of the American polity. Critics cite concerns about the effects of increasingly low-cost information, fearing that it reinforces biases, undermines democratic institutions, violates privacy, enables discrimination, and potentially threatens national security. Platforms, which exist principally to disseminate user-generated content (as opposed to material authored at their direction), have been caught in the crossfire. They face an array of demands—sometimes strident, sometimes contradictory—to alter the information ecology that their applications host.
In response, platforms have already altered their curation techniques based upon social and market pressures. Facebook formed a partnership with a set of external fact-checking entities to police the content of posted links. Google has refined the user interface for its news and search services to include a “Fact Check” section. Backpage dropped its adult services section. Twitter purged accounts that it suspected were bots, drawing the ire of political conservatives. Despite these self-imposed strictures, however, platform critics are still united on one point: the companies must do more.