There are a lot of places to start. Part of the reason we find ourselves loving to hate Facebook is that it doesn’t seem like there are many other options available. After all, we’ve spent so much time building our friend network and posting on the platform that it doesn’t seem like it’s reasonable to try to do that all again on some other social network. If we want meaningful alternatives, we need to have mandated standards for interoperability between social networking platforms to allow new competitors to be able to provide useful alternatives to the entrenched players. That means that new social networking apps would be able to access your friend networks on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else if you (and your friends) give permission. This would make it easier for you to switch to a new platform that, say, offered better privacy guarantees or promoted less toxic content to you, while being able to leverage all the friendships or followers you had already built on Facebook or Twitter. That not only means more platform options that might better match your preferences, but it also creates competitive pressure for Facebook and other social media companies to improve their own policies.
Congress should pass federal privacy legislation that demands transparency about the personal data that social media companies collect and requires them to fully inform users — in accessible language — while seeking consent regarding how that data can be used. It should mandate data portability across platforms, which would enable users to easily bring their personal data to a new platform (say, to move your profile from Facebook to a different app). And it should require those building algorithms to check them for bias and assess potential harms, and then publicly report on their findings. Even a heavily polarized Congress should be able to agree that it’s a good idea for citizens to know how algorithms make high-stakes decisions in their lives, both in the public sector and in private companies.
There are even harder issues to deal with, like reining in online misinformation. Progress on content moderation will require new regulations that deftly navigate Democratic concerns about misinformation and Republican worries about the censorship of right-wing voices. Congress can begin with laws that require external and independent researchers to be able to access the mountains of data about users and the effects of algorithmic amplification on exposure to misinformation, hate speech, incitements to violence and other dangerous forms of content. Congress could mandate audits of the algorithms that decide what content gets amplified, and provide for external accountability to determine whether platforms are adhering to their stated content moderation policies.
This has been a turning point for Big Tech, not just for Facebook. Progress is possible, and it begins with diminishing the concentrated power in the hands of a few executives who have shown that the inescapable pull of greater profits will always tip the scales when tough choices need to be made. Yes, the events have been disruptive for Facebook. And they should be just as disruptive for other social media companies. But more than anything else, Congress must get to work on reforming Big Tech.