Threaten Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter with bankruptcy! That was Joe Scarborough, back on his anti-social-media hobbyhorse again on today's Morning Joe.
He and the panel were reacting to two items in the news: the testimony of Instagram's CEO yesterday before a Senate committee, and an advisory from the Surgeon General warning about a mental health crisis among young people.
Scarborough's solution was to permit class-action lawsuits against social media companies like Instagram for the harm they do, in the same way that tobacco companies and airplane manufacturers have been held liable. They apparently have caused an "epidemic of teenage depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations."
At one point, calling himself a free-market conservative, Scarborough went on an angry, finger-pointing rant against Republicans, telling them "spare me--it's called the free market!" Chopping the air with his hand, he declared, "we need to make Silicon Valley answer for their misdeeds."
Just five years ago, teen's magazines and women's magazines were in the cross hairs.
In particular, Scarborough called for class action suits by parents that would cost the companies billions, and ultimately threaten bankruptcy. That would force them, said Scarborough, to change their algorithms. He called for Section 230 to be amended to permit such suits. As it stands, Section 230 generally provides immunity from liability for online publishers of material provided by third-party users.
Joe Scarborough calling for social media companies to be threatened with bankruptcy was sponsored in part by Volvo, Google, Fisher Investments, Gold Bond, Kraft, maker of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Amazon, and Acura.
Here's the transcript.
6:37 am ET
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: The Surgeon General's advisory adds to a growing number of calls for attention and action around adolescent mental health, and calls on social media companies to do more.
. . .
JOE SCARBOROUGH: The epidemic of teenage depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, all the things that were being driven, [Mika sighs] if you talk to people that are at schools or run schools, by social media, by Instagram, and the pandemic just made a bad situation worse. And it's a situation we have to come to terms with.
. . .
MIKA: Why are we putting up with this? Why does this continue?
SCARBOROUGH: It's a really good question. What can be done, Katty --
MIKA: I'd shut it down in a second.
. . .
SCARBOROUGH: I am a conservative, I'm a free market conservative, and I believe you let the market operate. And one of the ways that the market is supposed to operate is, people that build products, make products that hurt people, that kill people, are liable for those products. Unless, of course, you're in Silicon Valley.
. . .
You make them liable, suddenly, it's not our responsibility to figure out what to do. If somebody dies, or if somebody is damaged by their product, their lawyers have to figure out what to do with it.
We're not going to be able to change their algorithm. But if they're paying billions of dollars out in legal costs, legal settlements, legal fees, they're going to go, hey: let me tell you why your algorithm is killing young girls. Let me tell you why your algorithm is leading young girls, 13-year-old girls, to cut themselves.
Let me tell you, because if you keep doing this, you are going to bankrupt the company. See: we don't know how to fix this, because we don't understand the algorithms. They do. And the second they're liable, and the second parents from across America can put out a class-action lawsuit --
And by the way, Republicans, just spare me, just spare me, Republicans. It's called the free market, all right? You build an defective plane and it goes into the ground, you get sued. That's the free market. We need to make Silicon Valley answer for their misdeeds and make them liable like every other business.
If they kill young girls, they pay billions of dollars in class-action lawsuits, and then they, not us will figure out how to fix it.
. . .
You've got to be able to sue them first. Section 230, Section 230 has to be amended.