The End Of The Open Internet: Cory Doctorow's Op-Ed From The Future
from the let's-hope-it-doesn't-come-to-this dept
The NY Times is running an “Op-Eds From the Future” series, which is a creative idea. In a recent one, Cory Doctorow matched the theme perfectly by highlighting what world looks like without an open internet, when companies are forced to monitor and filter everything. The point he’s making is that, especially with changing laws in the EU and some of the proposals in the US, the liability for hosting content will become too great, and we’ll shift from an internet that is open for communmications to one that is a “broacast” world of carefully vetted and fully “licensed” content. His title makes the premise clear: I Shouldn?t Have to Publish This in The New York Times.
Ten years ago, I could have published this on my personal website, or shared it on one of the big social media platforms. But that was before the United States government decided to regulate both the social media platforms and blogging sites as if they were newspapers, making them legally responsible for the content they published.
The move was spurred on by an unholy and unlikely coalition of media companies crying copyright; national security experts wringing their hands about terrorism; and people who were dismayed that our digital public squares had become infested by fascists, harassers and cybercriminals. Bit by bit, the legal immunity of the platforms was eroded ? from the judges who put Facebook on the line for the platform?s inaction during the Provo Uprising to the lawmakers who amended section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in a bid to get Twitter to clean up its Nazi problem.
He goes through the inevitable progression of events in a world without Section 230, in which various countries enact stricter and stricter laws, and the liability burdens become increasingly too great on companies, leading them to ramp up automated filters that don’t work very well, and then nothing works right, especially if you’re discussing a serious topic:
The platforms and personal websites are fine if you want to talk about sports, relate your kids? latest escapades or shop. But if you want to write something about how the platforms and government legislation can?t tell the difference between sex trafficking and sex, nudity and pornography, terrorism investigations and terrorism itself or copyright infringement and parody, you?re out of luck. Any one of those keywords will give the filters an incurable case of machine anxiety ? but all of them together? Forget it.
And the real kicker, none of that automation solved any of the “issues” that lawmakers insisted they were solving in the first place. And the key point in all of this: in deciding that bad stuff on the internet was the fault of big internet companies, you inevitably lock in those giants:
But instead, we decided to vest the platforms with statelike duties to punish them for their domination. In doing so, we cemented that domination. Only the largest companies can afford the kinds of filters we?ve demanded of them, and that means that any would-be trustbuster who wants to break up the companies and bring them to heel first must unwind the mesh of obligations we?ve ensnared the platforms in and build new, state-based mechanisms to perform those duties.
It’s a good, fun, readable vision of the world we’re currently heading for based on EU regulations and some of the nonsense being suggested regarding Section 230 today.
The really annoying part is how little those who are pushing these regulations seem to realize what they’re doing. Everyone is so focused on Section 230 these days as if it’s the only “lever” they have to pull in regards to their complaints (some of which are totally reasonable) about the big internet companies. Very few of them bother to consider how all of this plays out — which is why it’s great that Cory is doing so. Of course, those who don’t want to recognize what will happen don’t seem to care. I’ve seen a few people dismissing the story as “fiction,” which kind of misses the point. Hilariously, they’re doing so on social media platforms enabled by the laws that these people are now trying to kill.