Zuckerberg And Facebook Throw The Open Internet Under The Bus; Support Section 230 Reform
from the because-of-course dept
This shouldn’t be much of a surprise, unfortunately, but it appears that once again Facebook is the first to crack under political pressure, and has decided to sell out the open internet and free speech online. In testimony Mark Zuckerberg is planning to give tomorrow to the Senate Commerce Committee, he’s going to say a few nice things about Section 230, immediately followed by him saying the company now supports reforming the law. The praise for Section 230 is accurate, but it doesn’t much matter when he takes it back immediately:
However, the debate about Section 230 shows that people of all political persuasions are unhappy with the status quo. People want to know that companies are taking responsibility for combatting harmful content?especially illegal activity?on their platforms. They want to know that when platforms remove content, they are doing so fairly and transparently. And they want to make sure that platforms are held accountable.
This ignores that people are unhappy for contradictory reasons. Some are unhappy because sites are taking down propaganda and disinformation. Others are upset that they’re not taking down propaganda and disinformation (or not taking it down fast enough). NOTHING will satisfy everyone. Pretending that there’s some magical reform that will work is crazy talk.
But here’s the real problem. Whatever nuance there is to be discussed here, whatever recognition of the problems this will cause, the following paragraph will be seen as declaring open season on Section 230 because “even Facebook supports changing the law.”
Section 230 made it possible for every major internet service to be built and ensured important values like free expression and openness were part of how platforms operate. Changing it is a significant decision. However, I believe Congress should update the law to make sure it?s working as intended. We support the ideas around transparency and industry collaboration that are being discussed in some of the current bipartisan proposals, and I look forward to a meaningful dialogue about how we might update the law to deal with the problems we face today.
This is nonsense. It is working as intended. It’s allowing companies to make their own decisions, and to experiment with different moderation regimes. That many people are unhappy with those choices is the very nature of content moderation. It’s not like Congress is going to step in and create rules that work any better. It will only create rules that work worse.
At Facebook, we don?t think tech companies should be making so many decisions about these important issues alone. I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators, which is why in March last year I called for regulation on harmful content, privacy, elections, and data portability. We stand ready to work with Congress on what regulation could look like in these areas. By updating the rules for the internet, we can preserve what?s best about it?the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things?while also protecting society from broader harms. I would encourage this Committee and other stakeholders to make sure that any changes do not have unintended consequences that stifle expression or impede innovation.
And, yes, he’s repeating what he’s said before, knowing full fucking well that any regulations that Congress puts in place will simply serve to lock in Facebook’s position. Facebook can handle the compliance costs. The upstart companies that might disrupt Facebook will have a much harder time.
Make no mistake about it: this is Mark Zuckerberg pulling up the innovation ladder he climbed behind him.
This probably isn’t a huge surprise. Facebook’s vocal support for FOSTA — the law that amended Section 230 and put lives at risk — was only a first step. I was told, point blank, by a Facebook lobbyist that the company needed to support that “minor” change to Section 230 or Congress would have passed something even worse. And here we are, with Congress seeing Facebook’s initial caving not as a way to be satiated, but rather as the go-ahead to continue dismantling the framework of an open internet.
And, once again, here’s Facebook, happily willing to go along with it.
Facebook is throwing the open internet under the bus — in part gleefully, as so-called “critics” of Facebook stupidly demanded “reforms to Section 230” incorrectly believing that 230 was a “special subsidy” for Facebook. Facebook doesn’t need it any more, but all of the people who called for such reforms are now going to help cement Facebook’s position of dominance.
Unfortunately, this is likely to be the focus of tomorrow’s hearing, with Senators taking this as permission to destroy the open internet. It is likely that they will ignore fellow panelist Jack Dorsey giving the opposing message that Section 230 is necessary to enable new competitors and free speech on an open internet:
As we consider developing new legislative frameworks, or committing to self-regulation models for content moderation, we should remember that Section 230 has enabled new companies?small ones seeded with an idea?to build and compete with established companies globally. Eroding the foundation of Section 230 could collapse how we communicate on the Internet, leaving only a small number of giant and well-funded technology companies.
We should also be mindful that undermining Section 230 will result in far more removal of online speech and impose severe limitations on our collective ability to address harmful content and protect people online. I do not think anyone in this room or the American people want less free speech or more abuse and harassment online. Instead, what I hear from people is that they want to be able to trust the services they are using.
That’s the right message and an accurate one. And it will be stomped on by the message from Zuckerberg agreeing to throw the open internet under a speeding bus.