9/10/15 Kathryn Brownell, Showbiz Econ

Kathryn Brownell, assitant professor and author of the book “Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Politics,” researches the process of entertainment infiltration into American politics.

Two Purdue professors will participate in a conference Friday in Washington, D.C., about the timely issue of regulating social media.

The Purdue Brian Lamb School of Communication and the French Laboratory of Excellence in Creative Industries will host the pre-conference event at the National Press Club. The daylong event, “Riding or Lashing the Waves: Regulating Media For Diversity in a Time of Uncertainty,” will feature 20 speakers.

Sorin Matei, communications professor and associate dean of research, and Kathryn Brownell, assistant professor of history, will speaking on behalf of Purdue, according to a Purdue press release.

The conference will focus on the role of media, specifically social media, and the feasibility and legality of regulating online content without violating the First Amendment.

With social media sites becoming the primary platforms for dissemination of news, people have taken it upon themselves to engage each other online in support of their own beliefs or ideologies. However, one of the major consequences of this has been increased polarization among social media users, particularly on political issues, exacerbated by the “echo chambers” that form online.

Companies such as the social media giants Facebook and Twitter have come under fire worldwide for allowing hateful or otherwise controversial content to be posted on their platforms. Calls for increased moderation have caused companies to put in place their own regulations, with Facebook and Twitter, along with other major platforms such as YouTube, recently removing content deemed offensive or extreme.

According to Matei, individuals calling for regulation of media content seek to do so in the name of preserving democracy and protection against potentially harmful content. However, under the First Amendment, individuals publishing content are guaranteed freedom of speech without abridgment from the government.

This does not preclude actions taken by media companies, however, as they have the final say regarding what is permitted on their platforms.

“Social media plays a vital role in shaping political and civil life,” he said. “However, companies are not responsible for what people say, they can only try to regulate with their terms of use contracts.”

The Federal Communications Commission has imposed regulations against indecent material on public media. Indecency is subject to interpretation and is harder to enforce against individuals than it is against large corporations with higher traffic.

This begs the question of how to impose regulations on social media when the users are publishers and writers of their content, as opposed to the social media companies themselves, Matei said in an interview Wednesday. How would those regulations extend to and affect the rest of the media?

The conference will include Nicolas Curien, a member of the French regulatory authority CSA, as well as other European academics to discuss regulation. In European countries, he said, there is no exact equivalent to the First Amendment but rather a compilation of laws stating what content an individual can and cannot post.

Their views may offer a different outlook on how the United States can approach the regulatory issues that are arising with an increase in the posting of controversial content on social media platforms.

The ICA conference is Friday through Tuesday.

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