Repealing Section 230 or reforming it so platforms who profit via advertising are not covered, would reduce the incentive for social media to enable illegal behavior. If we did so, a whole range of legal claims, from incitement to intentional infliction of emotional distress to harassment to defamation to fraud to negligence, would hit the court system, and platforms would have to alter their products to make them less harmful. There are other paths to taking on targeted advertising, like barring it through privacy legislation, a law for a real Do Not Track List, or using unfair methods of competition authority of the Federal Trade Commission. But the point is, we need to stop immunizing platforms who enable illegal behavior from offloading the costs of what they inflict.
These “platforms” driving all discussion and conversation today are, by definition, common carriers. The phone company was a common carrier. They couldn’t discriminate against anyone. They had to provide service to everyone, because they were 1) essential to modern society, and 2) had a monopoly on the service. In the same way, Twitter and Facebook are essential, and monopolies in their respective spaces. Like the phone company, they should be required to just carry everything that’s not clearly and always illegal, and let the court system sort out behavior that requires any sort of legal interpretation.
I could see making exception for blocking groups or people identified by the government as terrorists or criminals, but that’s the point. The government — i.e., our system of laws — would be making that determination, not a bunch of un-elected modern day kings and princes of our neo-feudalistic capitalism.
I don’t trust them. Their influence over our country, news cycle, and opinions is too great to leave to profit motive. It’s already been credibly demonstrated that Russia (at least) interfered in the 2016 election through these two platforms, because it aligned with this profit-seeking motivation. What guarantee do we have that this is not ongoing? There’s no accountability, and no visibility into their systems, hidden behind trade secrets for the banal purpose of making obscene profits.
Facebook is making $20 billion dollars a year, and paying about 8% tax. The older I get, the more liberal I get, and the more I resent the squandered opportunity cost of another round of tens-of-millions-of-dollars bonuses for a bunch of execs, while human beings pile up on the sidewalks in the city which hosts the company’s headquarters. It’s immoral. I don’t know when the line was crossed, but the whole thing is simply immoral, at this point.
Twitter doesn’t make nearly the money that Facebook does, but they are arguably more directly important. It seems that half the news articles I read these days are about a tweet, or reference tweets as part of the story. Their influence is overarching all news organizations now. That’s a dangerous situation for a democracy. These companies are ruining the world by — dare I say it: “inciting violence” — through driving everyone crazy with anger and division about every issue, no matter how big or small, evading meaningful oversight, and not giving back commensurately. I tire of it.
UPDATE: Right after posting this, I read Continuations by Albert Wenger : Welcome to the Government-IT Infrastructure…
I believe there is a high likelihood that we are witnessing the visible emergence of the government-IT infrastructure complex. Government will be even less inclined to try and generate competition in this space. It is so much more convenient to have just a few large entities that an executive agency can influence behind the scenes rather than having to bother with the rule of law. We have already had this in the payments space for a while where instead of targeted interventions against actual abuses payment providers withdraw wholesale support for companies in certain categories (most prominently anything related to sexwork).
Matt Stoller thinks that there’s a shot at doing some serious anti-monopoly regulation under a Biden administration, but Albert Wenger makes me realize that Facebook and Twitter don’t just have government “cover” because of campaign contributions. They also are manipulating their systems in subtle ways for the government’s benefit (besides giving them access to all the personal data they want, of course). I realize now that the relationship goes deeper than I have previously, cynically concluded. There’s not going to be some sort of noble, united urge from Congress to reign these companies in and hold them accountable for their influence on our democracy. A few of the “radicals” may make some noise, but only because they haven’t been briefed on the whole dynamic. And they won’t be. Their political theater is useful to those actually in power. Or, cynically, maybe they do know the real situation, and they just volunteer to be the token voices against these companies, to string along the public’s desire that they do “something” about them.