Panel debates tech, social media effects at Hauenstein Center event

As technology and social media giants face backlash from the public, media and politicians, the question of regulation lingers through the halls of Congress.

The Hauenstein Center presented a panel discussion moderated by Michael Matheson Miller with the Acton Institute, addressing the issue Thursday, October 21, at the Loosemore Auditorium on Grand Valley’s Pew Grand Rapids Campus. 

The Big Five — Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook — drew the most attention from debaters Josh Hammer and Carl Szabo.

Panelists debating during Hauenstein Center event
Carl Szabo, left, and Josh Hammer, right, debate the effects and public policy issues involving technology and social media giants like Facebook and Google.
Image Credit: Valerie Hendrickson

Hammer, opinion editor at Newsweek and council and policy advisor for the Internet Accountability Project, said there’s no question about Big Tech’s detrimental effects on society today.

“The short answer to Big Tech being a big problem is a resounding yes,” said Hammer. “The top five companies on the S&P 500 are tech companies. We shouldn’t have one industry with that much power.”

Szabo, president and general counsel at NetChoice, said the market and people should determine a company’s viability, and the government should remain out of regulation.

“I’m in the best position to know what’s best for my family,” said Szabo. “It’s up to personal, individual responsibility.”

Hammer countered Big Tech and social media use algorithms designed to “get the hearts pumping,” and later described the process as the “siloing of society into separate tribes.”

Panelist debating during Hauenstein Center event
Josh Hammer, right, fields a question from a member of the audience during the Hauenstein Center event "Does Big Tech Equal Big Trouble?"
Image Credit: Valerie Hendrickson

“I do think it is dehumanizing,” said Hammer. “We’ve chosen to outsource our sovereignty and gateways to our information. Others are choosing what information I see.”

Eventually, the discussion evolved toward Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

In other words, Big Tech and social media are provided immunity and protected from being held legally responsible for what users post to their sites.

“My argument on Section 230 is fundamentally that the platforms are no longer acting as neutral platforms,” said Hammer. “We see this over and over again.”

Ultimately, Szabo viewed the free market as the decider of the problem.

“I would much rather empower consumers,” said Szabo. “I support more transparency, but it’s up to the individual.

“It’s new tech, a new tool. As a society, we’re just getting our hands around it. I don’t want the government telling me what I can and can’t do.”