'But Without 230 Reform, Websites Have No Incentive To Change!' They Scream Into The Void As Every Large Company Pulls Ads From Facebook

from the oh,-look-at-that dept

One of the most frustrating lines that we hear from people criticizing internet website content moderation is the idea that thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, websites have no incentive to do any moderation. This is a myth that I consider to be the flip side of the claims by aggrieved conservatives insisting that Section 230 requires “no bias” in moderation decisions. The “no incentive” people are (often lawyers) complaining about too little moderation. For reasons I cannot comprehend, they seem to think that the only motivation for doing anything is if the law requires you to do it. We’ve tried to debunk this notion multiple times, and yet it comes up again and again. Just a couple weeks ago in a panel about Section 230, a former top Hollywood lobbyist trotted it out.

I’ve been thinking about that line a bunch over the past few days as a huge number of large companies began pulling ads from Facebook as part of a “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign put together by a bunch of non-profits.

Over 200 companies have said they’ve joined the campaign and pulled their Facebook ads, including some big names, like Unilever, Verizon, Hershey, The North Face, Clorox, Starbucks, Reebok, Pfizer, Microsoft, Levi’s, HP, Honda, Ford, Coca Cola and many, many more. Now, the cynical take on this is that with the current economic conditions and a global pandemic, many were looking to pull back on advertising anyway, and joining this campaign was a way to do so and get a bit of an earned media boost at the same time.

But many of the companies are putting out statements demanding that Facebook change its practices before they’ll bring back ads. Here’s an open letter from Levi’s:

As we near the U.S. election in November and double down on our own efforts to expand voter education and turnout, we are asking Facebook to commit to decisive change. Specifically, we want to see meaningful progress towards ending the amplification of misinformation and hate speech and better addressing of political advertisements and content that contributes to voter suppression. While we appreciate that Facebook announced some steps in this direction today ? it?s simply not enough.

That?s why we are joining the #StopHateForProfit?campaign, pausing all paid Facebook and Instagram advertising globally and across all our brands to ?hit pause on hate.? We will suspend advertising at least through the end of July. When we re-engage will depend on Facebook?s response.

I’m not convinced this campaign is necessarily a good idea, but at the very least it should put an end to people — especially prominent experts — claiming that there is “no incentive” for sites to do a better job with their content moderation practices. There are always non-legal incentives, including keeping users happy — and also keeping advertisers happy.

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Comments on “'But Without 230 Reform, Websites Have No Incentive To Change!' They Scream Into The Void As Every Large Company Pulls Ads From Facebook”

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aerinai (profile) says:

For reasons I cannot comprehend, they seem to think that the only motivation for doing anything is if the law requires you to do it.

The reason is simple: they use the tool they know. Not every job requires a hammer, but if you only have a hammer… it’s the next best thing.

Lawyers know law. They aren’t social scientists or marketers or tech professionals. They use their limited toolbox to solve the problem that they see the only way they know how. And their way also helps them stay in business!

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In addition it is more difficult for politicians to control what private companies will consider to be appropriate moderation (thus directly impacting their advertising buys) than (in their imaginations) changing the laws (despite campaign contribution anxiety). The § 230 amending crowd want to control speech and are looking for ways to ‘fix’ the 1st Amendment by making someone (but not them) liable for third party speech they don’t like. The stumbling block is how they can keep speech they like without any repercussions at the same time (or having those amendments to the law reversed by 1st Amendment realities).

I don’t think they will largely agree with the results of this corporate ‘interference’ as they don’t see themselves in control of the outcomes, something they desperately desire. That it disintegrates their ‘no incentive’ arguments is not of as much consequence as being able to control the political arena. Any step toward an authoritarian state (with their party in charge) is a good step. Stumbling blocks are considered the equivalent of ‘felony interference with a business model’ for which there is no actual law, but plenty of actionable behaviors, that they will relish taking.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

Okay but not really, though. Corporations have images to uphold. If corporate execs don’t want those images associated with a social media service that doesn’t do much of anything about hateful/violent speech, that sucks for the service. But the law can’t (and shouldn’t) force advertisers to stay on that service. And besides that, people can always spin a Mastodon instance or start a blog or join some other service if they think the service in question has become a pandering leftist wasteland where trans rights are human rights and Black lives matter.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

A loss of advertising need not impact speech. Jim Sterling stopped running ads on his YouTube videos a long while back and he still gets to say whatever the fuck he wants.

People want to tear down 230. But for now, it stands. So long as it stands, free speech remains a thing that can happen on services ranging from Twitter to Parler to your local Mastodon instance.

Your doom-and-gloom outlook is noted, but for God’s sake, get off your ass and fight for something better if you really feel that way. Whining about the so-called death of free speech will accomplish precisely nothing.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Seems like you’re confusing the right to speak with the right to be heard.

It sounds to me like he thinks it isn’t free speech if a corporation doesn’t pay for it.

Demonetization is not at all, in any form or fashion, a threat to free speech. It is merely a threat to commercial paid speech, which is nobody’s right. If you have trouble making the distinction, try to imagine John Hancock whining that the East India Tea Company wasn’t willing to pay for a print run of the Declaration of Independence. That was paid for by the authors–paid for by their own lives and fortunes. And it was free.

Anyone who isn’t willing to speak freely in that way, isn’t concerned about their free speech, they’re just concerned about their business model.

Which brings anothere issue into clearer focus for me. The OTHER SIDE in the Google and Comcast wars are deliberately exploiting this confusion. Somehow Comcast has BECOME a "speaker" by transmitting whatever Internet packets I request to be sent or not sent, and therefore they can decide whether to send or not send them (based on how much money they can charge), and THEY can break into MY conversation with some third party to insert paid-for advertising speech.

But at the same time, Google has become a "publisher" and has to host whatever I want on their own servers, and make it visible to whomever I want, and make whomever I choose pay for it.

It’s like, in the real world, swapping the laws so that the Telecommunications Act applies to the New York Times, and the libel laws apply to the phone company.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Demonetization is not at all, in any form or fashion, a threat to free speech.

The removal of adverts from YouTube is not a demonetization ala the adpocolypse on YouTube, but rather the wielding of commercial power to dictate how Facebook moderates, that is removes, speech. The longer description of what I am saying is that there is a concentrated effort to reduce the reach of peoples speech by restricting speech allowed on platforms with a large reach. If YouTube didn’t have policies about the removal of hate speech, the advertisers would have a point, but perfection from a moderation system, well that just not possible.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

"rather the wielding of commercial power to dictate how Facebook moderates, that is removes, speech"

It’s called voting with your wallet. If you find a service unethical, you’re within your rights not to pay for that service.

"The longer description of what I am saying is that there is a concentrated effort to reduce the reach of peoples speech by restricting speech allowed on platforms with a large reach"

The shorter description is that people don’t have to fund speech they disagree with. It’s a little more complex when you consider the power that some corporations might hold, but all that’s being said here is "we disagree with what Facebook are doing, therefore we’ve decided not to fund that activity".

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Okay but not really, though. Corporations have images to uphold. If corporate execs don’t want those images associated with a social media service that doesn’t do much of anything about hateful/violent speech, that sucks for the service. But the law can’t (and shouldn’t) force advertisers to stay on that service. And besides that, people can always spin a Mastodon instance or start a blog or join some other service if they think the service in question has become a pandering leftist wasteland where trans rights are human rights and Black lives matter.

It’s not a question of their image here. What these companies hate is expression of others showing up next to their product placement. At best, it’s a distraction that’s taking eyeballs away from their ads. At worst, it’s flamebait that makes people associate their company with random internet trolling or a comment that actively runs against their product / company. The ad companies have used their position of internet financiers to implement favorable censorship in the past, (YouTube for example) but they cannot do it often or else run the risk of making their offerings too toxic. "Reforming" I.e. Destroying Section 230 resolves that problem by making it virtually impossible to host moderated user-generated content. The ad companies can then just mandate that any site wanting their ad money can implement filters and moderating (they already do), and voila! No more distractions / flamebait near their ads online.

Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Reforming" I.e. Destroying Section 230 resolves that problem by making it virtually impossible to host moderated user-generated content. The ad companies can then just mandate that any site wanting their ad money can implement filters and moderating (they already do), and voila! No more distractions / flamebait near their ads online.

That doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t matter what the ad-companies say, because in the end it’ll be the site that’ll be liable (well, sued anyway) for any content without 230. And as has been pointed out earlier, without 230 a site can be sued both for moderating and not moderating – which actually is detrimental to the ad-business since it means that some sites will choose no to carry UGC which also means less interactions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I would also bet that Tucker Carson also brings in the viewers, increasing the rate charged for the advertisers that remain.

Besides which, there is a difference between objecting to what a person under contract is saying on a platform, with its association with a platforms views, and objecting to what users are saying on what is a moderated self publishing platform, where there is no association between the posts and the platforms viewpoints.. Lose too many advertisers, and Facebook either accedes to their demands or goes under.

The adpocalypse on YouTube was different, it was don’t display our adverts in association with this type of content, but did not demand that the content was taken down. The demands on Facebook are remove the content to get our business back. That difference is why I consider the withdrawal of adverts an attack on free speech, rather than a freedom of association issue.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"rather advertisers telling Facebook to throw people out of the store because they break the advertisers rule of behaviour."

No, it’s advertisers saying "if you keep those people in the store we’ll stop paying you to host them".

If I have a season pass to a venue, and every time I go to that venue there’s the same assholes causing fights, it’s within my rights to say "stop those idiots fighting or I’m not going to renew my pass".

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

well that’s just capitalism.

"It’s just good business" is never an excuse for blatant disregard of social responsibility.

Free speech doesn’t mean what you think. In the same way I could throw you out of my store for yelling hate speech, a platform can do the same.

The internet is a communications medium. If I were to take your analogy to it’s conclusion, as your ISP I could ban you from using the lines you paid for from accessing / posting certain content because I didn’t want to facilitate it. You like going to YouTube? Sorry, the ISP’s free speech rights override yours. You’ll have to use the ISP’s service for online videos. You like posting to 4chan? Sorry, the ISP feels that it’s rights are being infringed on by you forcing them to access and carry the traffic of a site they dislike. Fox News? Sorry the ISP is a leftist ISP, they feel it’s wrong for their network to be forced to propagate your comments about minorities.

Simply stated, an ISP could effectively ban you from communicating, and before you start with "Then just find another ISP…." remember most places in the US are subject to telecom monopolies where any competing service is either outright illegal, or very expensive if it can be found at all. Free speech is not much of a right if you must first get fleeced by others to have the opportunity to use it.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If I were to take your analogy to it’s conclusion, as your ISP I could ban you from using the lines you paid for from accessing / posting certain content because I didn’t want to facilitate it.

Then maybe you should support Network Neutrality, which (if it were the law right now) would explicitly say an ISP must act as a content-neutral connection between a user and a website — as a “dumb pipe” through which all data flows equally.

JMT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

""It’s just good business" is never an excuse for blatant disregard of social responsibility."

Facebook has no more of a social responsibility to provide you a platform than your local grocery has to provide you food. They’re businesses, and they get to run them whatever (legal) way they want.

Why the hell do you feel so damn entitled?

Techzilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

In addition,

Our nation lavishly funded all the research and development for their entire business model, and all of the big tech companies got unearned assistance from the state security apparatus.

So your version of the "free-market", is an idealistic fraud, it doesn’t exist. In addition the market has one purpose, to serve the collective interests of our nation, if it is not doing that because of perverse incentives, then we are obliged to correct them by means of the state. It doesn’t serve the interests of the citizenry to have the state micromanaging businesses, because it negativally impacts said abilities of businesses to serve the citizenry, and it risks abuse of unaccountable power.

So yes, we are entitled to correct market incentives, if the outcomes undermine our nation, destabilizes society in ways that only the state could correct. We are not entitled to the fruits of another person’s labor, which is why we do not just steal money from companies and force them to serve the world’s most powerful political interests like progressives.

Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Free speech is not much of a right if you must first get fleeced by others to have the opportunity to use it.

You do understand that you aren’t entitled to an audience when you speak regardless of what technology or forum you use? In some instances you actually have to pay for the privilege of an audience.

And you are right about the ISP’s, and I wouldn’t be surprised that in the fine print of the TOS there’s passages that effectively says that they can terminate you for not particular reason. But the thing is, having internet access isn’t a right and having an ISP that’s content neutral isn’t a right either and that’s a sad state of affair in 2020.

The above do have some implications on free speech – but it doesn’t stop you from speaking.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Exactly. Pre-internet, if you wanted to publish a book, you usually had to go through a publisher, with all the contracts, editing and other things that this would imply. It didn’t mean that turning you down for publication or making edits you didn’t agree with were a violation of your free speech rights. It simply meant that if you were to use their business to publish, you abided by their rules. If you didn’t agree, self-publish or find another medium. This was never controversial.

We’ve now come so far the other way that not only is it so easy for anyone to publish, people are not only demanding the right to publish for free, they’re demanding the right to outright offend the people actually paying for the service they use.

Techzilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Any business model in which the customers are not the users of the product, loses the respect and legitimacy we attribute to direct trading of goods and services. Most especially when said customers are acting in a coordinated politically motivated manner, and/or are responding to market pressures that are the result of unaccountable political motivations.

The outcomes determine if correction is required, and the outcomes have risen to this point in this specific example.

Techzilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Unfortunately that pretty much ensures that free-speech itself will become totally deligitimized. The entire ideal would have no legitimacy left, it would have no value to the citizenry, and nothing like that survives very long in this world.

This is why the state is necessary to correct the perverse market incentives, which produced a small unaccountable cadre of conglomerates determining what speech is acceptable for all of society. Otherwise there will be no free-peach in a very short amount of time, because it would be almost masochistic to defend it.

Anonymous Coward says:

1st as in Number 1

Free speech doesn’t exactly lend itself to controlling the narrative.
It doesn’t matter to a lawyer if the speech is liable or not, what matters to the lawyer is if he can meet his clients needs – by suppressing the comment offensive to the lawyers client. They do this with threatening letters and lawsuits. Most posters don’t have the resources to defend themselves from a lawsuit so they will remove the post.

Anonymous Coward says:

I firmly believe section 230 should be preserved, but I feel I have to point out that Facebook’s response to this advertiser "revolt" is to shrug their shoulders and say "well, we’re just a reflection of a sick society, womp womp". I suspect they believe (as I do) that this will all blow over eventually, and Facebook’s got the resources to ride this out. Partly because they’ve never been seriously punished for all their privacy violations and whatnot.

Anonymous Coward says:

perhaps Levi as a company should concentrate on freeing the slaves they keep chained up in China, India and Bangladesh. Where they aren’t allowed to leave or they get beaten. Where money is withheld, along with passports and legal documentation.

Where threats of violence and death are commonplace.

Yeah but that wouldn’t gel with our vacuous bandwaggoning…..

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

For reasons I cannot comprehend, they seem to think that the only motivation for doing anything is if the law requires you to do it. We’ve tried to debunk this notion multiple times, and yet it comes up again and again.

This is the same thinking style as, "You can’t think or behave ethically without having a religious belief system / authoritarian laws." I don’t know that this thinking can change readily without a literal conversion experience.

I’m not convinced this campaign is necessarily a good idea

It is certainly bullshit. It might have a good effect, maybe for a while, and possibly in both directions? But yeah. Hell, they should pull support from each other while they are at it, considering the awful behavior and outright crimes of each and every one of them.

There are always non-legal incentives

Including internal ethics, as long as they don’t interfere with the psychopathic profit-seeking nature of corporations. They do have these. Like with the whole unnecessary bs CSAM fake laws show. Most of these companies show more interest and do a better job than law enforcement and society in general in addressing the problem.

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