Senator Klobuchar Thinks We Need To Start Fining Social Media Companies For Not Removing Bots Fast Enough

from the nothing-more-automated-than-a-knee-jerk dept

Cool. Let’s just throw more legislation at the problem.

Social media giants Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. should be fined if they don’t weed out automated accounts, or bots, trying to influence U.S. public opinion, said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.

“I think that would be a great idea,” Klobuchar, of Minnesota, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday when asked whether the companies should face fines if they fail to act after the government discovers the bots.

First, let’s stop giving politicians bad ideas. Whoever prompted this response from Klobuchar has bits on their hands if this ever becomes law. Klobuchar can come up with her own bad ideas. There’s absolutely no reason journalists should be floating ideas containing First Amendment collateral damage. Let Klobuchar come up with her own terrible legislation. It’s not like she hasn’t done it before.

Second, what the hell does this even mean? Weeding out all bots is impossible. Weeding out those the government has noticed might be doable, but they’ll likely be replaced with new ones as soon as they’re deleted. On top of that, forcing large platforms to cull anything that resembles automation is going to do damage to legitimate accounts that schedule posts in advance and it might result in the removal of truly useful bots, like Brad Heath’s Big Cases bot — one that trawls federal court RSS feeds for cases of interest and posts publicly-available copies of filings locked behind the government’s PACER paywall.

Such a task is unfeasible. Legislation like this would only serve as a platform for political grandstanding. Fining tech companies for violations of terms of service by users is ridiculous. It’s not as though we don’t have enough ongoing threats to service provider immunity. Twitter and Facebook are already trying to wrestle with bot problems, but criminalizing the mere existence of bots doesn’t solve the problem. It just makes it easier for the government to monetize the very behavior reps are claiming they want to stamp out. It’s an incentive with a government perversion attached.

And Klobuchar, of course, has no idea how platforms with hundreds of millions of users will implement the No Bots Allowed law. All she knows is it’s their problem and they’re smart enough to figure it out on their own.

“These are the most sophisticated companies in America,” Klobuchar said. “They have brilliant people working there. I believe that they’ve got to put more resources — maybe it means they make less profits off of ads and other things — but they’ve got to put the resources into Facebook and Twitter to stop these bots from dominating the accounts.”

Of course! The nerds will do it! They’ll take all of the blame and receive none of the credit while the federal government gets into the business of running social media platforms. If a company doesn’t have the money to do it (smaller startups), then they just don’t get to play. And if platforms struggle financially attempting to please the government while shedding users, so be it. If destroying American companies (and damaging the internet) is what it takes to take down the Russian bot menace, no price (paid by others) is too high.

Finally, there’s a good chance the implementation of a law like this would push social media platforms to demand even more personal information from users, eliminating truly anonymous speech and possibly endangering lives/livelihoods of pseudonymous users. Fortunately, these seem to be off-the-cuff response based on a bad set of improv prompts from Meet the Press hosts. But Klobuchar has pushed bad legislation in the past and there’s no time like the present to pretend the US government can somehow legislate away foreign influence in US politics.

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Comments on “Senator Klobuchar Thinks We Need To Start Fining Social Media Companies For Not Removing Bots Fast Enough”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Great idea. And should be HIGH too.

Same topic: all who think the techno-lords are above Common Law should read this:

**”Silicon Valley faces ‘perfect storm’ of public contempt…”**

The era of gaining huge money from “teh internets” without least responsibility or accountability is OVER, kids.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Do your job

Vote them out!

The proper control is already in place, you just need to get the people to stop falling for the Us vs Them party politics.

I remember watching a couple of new casters going at it, and the other accused the guy of attacking his own side too much. He said, why are you going after us, you are supposed to be going after them.

A lot of people do not understand that if you are trying to clean up someone else’s house more than your own, then you might be less honest than you think yourself to be.

There are multiple parables and saying about it as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Do your job

“Vote them out!

Would be nice if that were possible.

Maybe .. if they could stop with the childish party line crap, maybe they could actually accomplish something – like doing their damned jobs. Anyone else who refuses to do their job is usually let go. Black lists are supposed to be illegal but I would not be surprised to find out they are a reality.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Do your job

“Would be nice if that were possible.”

you mean probable? It’s rare but politicians still get ousted from time to time when they fuck up “big enough”.

People are always breaking the law and marginalizing others. You really cannot get people to behave, it is just not possible as long as they have free will.

Naturally we are going to just keep trying to control people until we have an excuse to kill them… just like human history shows.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Do your job

It’s less “do not want to stand for office” so much as “stand zero practical chance of actually getting elected”, such that the investment of time and money and effort into the process of running for office is not remotely worth it.

I think I could do a far better job of actual policy-making, and so forth, than most of the people currently in office in many places – but I do not remotely have the skillset or the temperament to prevail on the campaign trail, even at the county level much less anything higher than that. (I say that having seen my father, who’s much better at those things than I am and much better-connected in the community, fail fairly conclusively – though not spectacularly – in a county-level election.)

One of the core weaknesses of American-style democracy (and possibly of democracy in general) is that the skills and talents which make someone good at winning elections have little overlap with the skills and talents which make someone good at governing.

Then again, the same is true of most other forms of government, so the old adage that “democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the others” probably still applies…

Anonymous Coward says:

Also a semi-related update for ya, proving that the "Wild West" phase is over:

“Taylor Huddleston, of Arkansas, USA, pleaded guilty in July 2017 to one charge of aiding and abetting computer intrusions by building and peddling his $25 software nasty. In addition to the **33-month sentence** handed down on Friday, he will also get two years of supervised release. He had faced a maximum of 10 years in prison.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Great. There are too many porn bots sharing links to their profile.

I suspect what Senator Klobuchar means here is censorship of speech that impacts his fundraising efforts. Perhaps too many of his sources are generating the lobbying dollars through unsavory means. The accounts I continue to see censored and shut down are those which, similar to Techdirt, raise attention to underreported items or help bridge the gap taking complicated issues and breaking them down into easier to understand bites of information.

Time to fire up the fundraising filings from Senator Klobuchar and review what we know of his representee base. There’s something the Senator doesn’t want the public shining a light on.

HegemonicDistortion says:

“…after the government discovers the bots.”

So the government is going to decide who are legitimate speakers, and it will be the task of social media companies to then delete those. Sure, so problems with that.

Of course probably the easiest way to do this is for citizens to register their accounts with the government to be “validated.”

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, would be interesting for someone to put him on the spot and ask him exactly how he thinks the government is going to spot bots, who is going to be in charge of bot-hunting, and how much is going to be spent on the whole thing.

I suspect the answers, if he didn’t immediately change the subject, would be rather vague at best.

Anonymous Hero says:

Overblown reaction to an overblown issue.

The Russian boogeymen, called the Internet Research Agency, spent some $100,000 on Facebook ads during the election.

Trump and Clinton spent a combined $81 million on Facebook ads during the election.

In the key swing states, the total Russian Facebook buys are: Pennsylvania, $300; Michigan, $832; and Wisconsin, $1,979 – with $1,925 of that spent before the Republican primary in the state.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Move those goalposts

1) There’s no evidence that the russians meddled
2) Yeah, they might have done something, but they didn’t spend that much
3) Yes, they definitely did something but nothing was adversely affected so it does not matter
4) The election was rigged but lets just move on
5) ?????
6) Profit!!!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Move those goalposts

I just love how it was an issue to begin with.

All elections are meddled with. The question is never did they meddle, it is only how much and how effective.

But I really do not care until they can do more than just say words. I never ceases to amaze me how people that “say” they are all for democracy seek to “control” the outcome of that democracy. How do people not realize that Democracy is a lie, a pernicious despicable false hope lie.

People are stupid, ignorant, fear driven, and weak. Democracy is not possible, and never will be. But do not let me dissuade you from its delusions. They give comfort to the ignorant while it usurps their liberty.

Matthew Cline (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Move those goalposts

People are stupid, ignorant, fear driven, and weak. Democracy is not possible, and never will be. But do not let me dissuade you from its delusions. They give comfort to the ignorant while it usurps their liberty.

Any form of nation/country/government is going to be run by people, so how one run by the stupid, ignorant and fear driven going to bring about liberty? And if the populace gave up on the idea of democracy, how would they, being stupid, ignorant and fear driven, help out the nation/etc to achieve liberty?

ECA (profile) says:


I like to hear what they have to say..

I watch FB, and its fun some times. Watching all the Adverts and Garbage posts…
Adverts are PART of most services..Garbage posts..There is a Small button in the Right corner of the Post..TO NOT SEE THESE ANYMORE..

I dont mind OPINIONS, as long as I can see SOME logic in them.. Its not that I DONT LIKE either party..I would love more Party selection, and abit of COMMON SENSE..and knowledge in the elections and WORDS COMING OUT THEIR MOUTHS..

Anonymous Coward says:

…criminalizing the mere existence of bots doesn’t solve the problem.

Except this legislation doesn’t criminalize the existence of bots. The bots are perfectly allowed to continue existing and doing whatever it is they do. There are no fines for creators of bots, or operators of bots, or attempts to destroy the bots. The bots themselves are fine.

It’s the platforms that are the criminals. If a bot breaks into your garden, you are the criminal. The Bots Did Nothing Wrong

Jeff Green (profile) says:

This could be an excellent idea (with a couple of changes)

In essence the idea seems to be if someone has a good idea and someone else uses it badly then the good idea guy must be pay unless he fixes things fast. Oooooooookaaaayyyyyyyyyy

So if say someone thought of a good idea for a law and it was used badly unless that law is fixed fast, say within 2 days, and by fixed clearly we mean in such a way that the law cannot be broken again and the perpetrators will be model citizens from now on all the failing lawmakers must be fined.

Let’s see. The second amendment could arguably be called a good idea but some people are abusing it. So for everyone who uses a gun to kill or maim or rob anyone else we fine the politicians!

Or maybe governments and legislatures are supposed to see that budgets are reasonably in balance, this is clearly easy billions of people round the world do it for their own budgets so the smartest politicians in America must be able to do it in an instant, they haven’t? Fine them, lets say a million a day each until the budget balances. That’ll fix things quick.

I’m sure we can keep on extending this legal principle in many many directions surely no legislator would think it a bad idea …

SelfInflictedSocialHarm says:

Regulations and Legislation are coming for Social

Think about it as you might the first cars on those poorly shaped mud roads that ran horses off the path or the first aviators to take to the sky with their barn storming feats.

Google, Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and all the rest have had free reign to make their own policies. Now that the harms of these services are coming to light, legislators are looking to define the rules of the road, air traffic policy to protect the public (in this case the Republic) from harm.

Governments around the world are now moving towards regulation and legislation, not because they want to, but because these platforms and companies haven’t done the work to keep democracies or the users of these platforms from harm.

In my view this is all self inflicted.

Put laws in places, put regulations in place that cripples these companies – then after – let them fight back and prove their case by case need to be free from regulation and legislation.

Hephaestus says:

Re: Regulations and Legislation are coming for Social

The problems is not that these companies are causing harm, it is that these companies are moving power away from the media companies, removing the ability to limit what people hear, accelerating the rate at which people realize that what they are being told is bullshit, and causing carefully crafted narratives to fall apart with the click of a mouse.

Politicians the world over are scared to death of losing control, and the free flow of information is causing that to occur. Hence all the current bogey men, fake news, Russian interference in elections, etc, that are being put forth in an attempt to shut down or control the uncontrollable flow of information.

I see any attempt to regulate content as ending up as a very huge fail. We have all seen it before, the internet routes around obstructions.

Frank Variable says:

Robot overlords

This will only last until our Robot Overloads hire or program a lawyer.

Think about all the Bot underlings having their first amendment free speech right trampled. They just want to go out and post online like everyone else. But these Senators want single out and censor the Bots from joining in the Social Media conversations.

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