This week on The Vergecast’s interview series, Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel and policy reporter Makena Kelly sit down with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) who is currently running for president.
Before heading into the studio, Bennet put out Dividing America: How Russia Hacked Social Media and Democracy, a book describing how Russian intelligence agents used social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit to sow discord and meddle in the 2016 presidential election. According to Bennet, Russia and other foreign entities are prepared to wreak havoc in 2020’s election cycle as well.
Hear Bennet discuss how memes are ruining democracy and what we can do to repair it. Is the solution sanctions? More rules of the road for platforms regarding speech and content moderation? Find out in this week’s episode.
Below is a lightly edited excerpt of the conversation.
Nilay Patel: What you’re describing to me is something that we cover a lot: What’s going to be on Facebook? Who’s allowed to post? What are they allowed to post? Some of these memes, a lot of them, look like things that normal people would post. Where is the line? Should it just be people from Russia who shouldn’t be allowed to post on Facebook? Should it be that they shouldn’t be allowed to pay to promote their stuff to people in the United States?
Sen. Michael Bennet: Why should Russia be able to use our social media platforms to attack the United States of America through subterfuge? It’s hard to think what the terrestrial equivalent is, but I supposed it would be allowing a local editorial page to be taken over by the Russians or allowing the local TV station to be taken over for an hour or two during the week by the Russians.
We would never have allowed that, and we shouldn’t allow that here. So I think banning that is really important, but I think it’s beyond that. You see this racist stuff that’s being posted, and they argue that it’s just a platform and therefore it’s okay to have racist stuff, or seeing people getting their heads cut off on the internet.
As a parent and as a citizen of this country, I don’t think that’s good enough. And I don’t know where the line is, but you know what they say about civilization? It consists of drawing lines. So we’ve got to figure out some place where we can draw the line and a mechanism so that, over time, we can balance the need to have full and free expression in the country, protect ourselves as a nation, and also, I think in the end, find a way for some of these platforms to actually serve the needs of the democracy rather than compromise them.