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Former defense and intelligence officials, Facebook whistleblowers form group to fix social media

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  • The new Council for Responsible Social Media includes a Facebook whistleblower, two ex-defense secretaries from the United States, and several former lawmakers and intelligence chiefs.
  • The group is backed by Issue One, a nonpartisan reform organization. It aims to reduce the negative effects social media can have on children, communities, and national security.
  • On Thursday, members will meet in person in Washington, D.C.

Two former U.S. defense secretaries and several past lawmakers and intelligence chiefs have formed a new group to examine the negative effects social media has on children, communities, and national security.

The Council for Responsible Social Media was publicly launched Wednesday by Issue One, a cross-partisan political reform organization. It focuses on strengthening the U.S. democracy, and works with former members of Congress to find solutions.

Dick Gephardt (ex-House majority leader, Democratic representative from Missouri) had been involved in Issue One after trying to understand why the country is polarized. He spoke Tuesday by phone. Gephardt, a Republican former Massachusetts Lt. Governor, is one of the cochairs of this council. Kerry Healey.

“People used come to me to say, “What’s wrong about Congress?” Gephardt stated that they can’t do anything and all they do is fight. He replied that the people are the source of the division.

He stated that Congress must reflect the people. If the people are bitterly divided then Congress will be bitterly divided.”

Gephardt stated that he initially considered whether traditional media might be contributing to the division but realized there was always opinion and politicization in editorial pages. After seeing “The Social Dilemma”, Gephardt began to believe that technology platforms could play a significant role in democracy. He began speaking with experts and reading up on the topic.

Gephardt stated that his experience in Congress has led him to believe that in order to solve any problem in a democracy you have to bring together diverse people, to talk to each other, and to listen to each other.

Some well-known names joining the council include former Secretaries of Defense Chuck Hagel and Leon Panetta, former Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen and former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris.

Chris Krebs, Michael Rogers and Porter Goss are all members. They were previously the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency of the Department of Homeland Security.

According to the council, it seeks to promote bipartisan discussion about tech in Washington, D.C. and across the nation, raise nonpartisan voices such as parents and pediatricians, to improve social media reform, and to encourage bipartisan collaboration. Although members met online to begin their work, their first meeting will be held in person in Washington on Thursday.

“I think things such as this group are very important to provide a united front, to get common sense change that can really make an impact,” Haugen, a former Facebook employee, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. He leaked documents internal to the company about its policies and research, telling journalists, lawmakers, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Haugen stated that the social media issues are bipartisan. It is possible to make them more obvious by not framing them in terms of content moderation. Many conservatives doubt content moderation as they believe that platforms can use it in order to censor certain viewpoints. However, mainstream platforms have repeatedly denied this.

Haugen stated that she views content moderation as a distraction from the true path forward, which is about product design, safety and transparency.

Haugen stated that it is more important than ever for platforms to design for safety and not rely solely on content moderation. Platforms are moving towards end-to-end encryption, which prevents them being able monitor the content of messages between users.

Haugen stated that design and interaction are the best ways to keep people safe in these environments.

Gephardt stated that he views the council’s role as an opportunity to find informed solutions and keep Washington’s attention on these issues. Gephardt recalled some advice he received from a mentor during his first year in Congress.

Gephardt recalls former Rep. Richard Bolling (D-Mo.) telling him that “you can’t pass any meaningful legislation here with only support on Congress. “So I think I see this group just as a part, or a small part of the outside pressure needed to push something to the finish line.

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