Smaller Internet Companies Say They're Open To 230 Reform… To Keep Facebook From Being The Only Voice In The Room

from the no-good-options dept

Earlier this fall, Facebook was (not surprisingly) the first big internet company to cave and to tell Congress that it was open to Section 230 reform. I say not surprisingly, because it’s done this before. Facebook was the company that caved in and supported FOSTA, which was the first major reform of 230. We heard from multiple people who said that Facebook recognized that it could weather the storm much better than its smaller competitors.

Indeed, Facebook’s executive team seems to have recognized that reforming 230 is a strong anti-competitive weapon. It weakens smaller competitors, making them ripe for buying out, and scares off investors from funding new upstarts. It still strikes me as incredible that the same people who are demanding we dismantle 230 are also calling for antitrust actions — because those two things work in directly opposite ways. Undermining 230 will do serious harm to competition. But that’s why Facebook is so eager to jump on board. The company already admits that it spends more than all of Twitter’s revenue on content moderation. So, it’s not really relying that much on 230 anyway.

And, of course, it’s advocacy for FOSTA has already paid off. After FOSTA passed, a number of dating sites shut down… just in time for Facebook to launch its own dating site.

Of course, when Facebook caved on FOSTA, what happened was Congress announced that “tech” was on board — pretending that Facebook’s move suddenly meant every other internet company approved too (when the reality was that every other internet company was basically furious with Facebook).

So, this puts many other internet companies in an impossible position: if they continue to completely fight changing Section 230 (as they should), then Facebook becomes the only voice in any reform “negotiations.” And, seeing how Congress handled this last time, it likely means that Facebook gets to shape the “reform” in a way that helps Facebook and harms everyone else. But, Congress, of course, will pretend that Facebook’s blessing means the rest of the internet agrees as well.

The end result, then, is that smaller companies, which absolutely rely on Section 230, feel pressure to get into the negotiations as well. And that’s why the NY Times now has a story saying that Snap, Reddit and TripAdvisor have told Congress they’re willing to talk about reform options:

On Tuesday, a group of smaller companies ? including Snap, Reddit and Tripadvisor ? plan to say that they are open to discussing reforms, too.

This is disappointing, but understandable. All three companies have relied heavily on 230 in a variety of lawsuits over the years. Snap just recently needed 230’s help to get out of a really silly lawsuit. And TripAdvisor, which is a site that is made up almost entirely of 3rd party reviews, gets threatened with litigation over and over again, based on business owners angry about negative reviews. 230 is what enables Trip to remain in business, and the company has long been a strong advocate for 230’s existence. The fact that it now says it will come to the negotiating table is truly a sad statement on the position that the 230 debate is in today.

Too many intellectually dishonest people have convinced Congress that Section 230 is a problem. And Facebook leapt in with wild abandon to help shape any reform in a manner that will most harm competitors. So now the smaller companies are put in the impossible position: continue to fight and be left out of the negotiations (where Congress will point to Facebook’s participation as “support from internet companies”) or agree to be a part of the process to push back on whatever awful ideas Facebook proposes for reform.

It’s ridiculous that these companies had to do this, and now the anti-230 crowd will cheer on this dismantling of their own protections.

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Companies: facebook, reddit, snap, tripadvisor

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Comments on “Smaller Internet Companies Say They're Open To 230 Reform… To Keep Facebook From Being The Only Voice In The Room”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'That sounds worthy of discussion', said the sheep to the wolf

Oh those stupid, short-sighted fools…

Yes sticking to your guns and refusing to compromise on 230 may leave Facebook the only anti-230 tech ‘voice’ in the room, but it also makes it so that smaller companies can point to the fact that only larger companies who will benefit from crippling or removing 230 are in favor of doing so, because smaller companies understand that if the law is crippled then they might as well just shut down immediately rather than be sued into the ground.

This is Facebook we’re talking about, a massive company, whether smaller companies are in the ‘room’ or not Facebook is still going to be the one driving the discussion, so all that smaller companies joining does is provide the impression that even more companies are in favor of gutting 230, making it even likelier to happen.

This isn’t shooting your own foot so much as strapping a block of C4 to it and then handing the detonator to someone who really doesn’t like you.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 'That sounds worthy of discussion', said the she

That didn’t really seem to answer their question. When a politician is dealing with two companies, one relatively small and the other massive why would they give equal credence to what both are saying rather than just focusing on the larger company?

Gutting 230 or crippling it in any meaningful way will help Facebook, so if a company doesn’t want to help Facebook then they should refuse to humor the idea that 230 should be changed/killed in the first place because any real reform will help Facebook more than them.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 It may not answer the question, But the thing is:

But that’s not at all what they’re doing, and in fact they are doing the exact opposite by saying ‘We are open to 230 reform’, and since any reform is going to hurt them more than Facebook it’s entirely counterproductive unless they want to help Facebook.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Being fair here:

Too many intellectually dishonest people have convinced Congress that Section 230 is a problem. And Facebook leapt in with wild abandon to help shape any reform in a manner that will most harm competitors. So now the smaller companies are put in the impossible position: continue to fight and be left out of the negotiations (where Congress will point to Facebook’s participation as "support from internet companies") or agree to be a part of the process to bold push back on whatever awful ideas Facebook proposes for reform.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Being fair here:

They can(and should) do that without accepting that reform is an acceptable idea though, because once they do that then they’ve already agreed with the idea that some C4 would look mighty fashionable on their foot with the only point of debate left being how big the block should be.

By agreeing with the flawed premise that will hurt them more than Facebook they’ve already conceded far more than they should have, and even worse by doing so they’ve made that harm even more likely to happen making it a bad idea twice over.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Being fair here:

Gut 230 and it absolutely will, if platforms risk being held legally liable for user-submitted content then they are either going to be much more restrictive in what they allow to be posted(almost certainly no anonymous posting for one, so if you wanted to leave that comment you would have had to create an account), if not prohibit outright any user submitted content due to it being far too risky to host.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Being fair here:

It’ll be an uphill battle to do so but if the last few years have taught me anything it’s that it can always get worse, so I wouldn’t put it past them to try to sneak something like that through or ‘put aside their petty differences’ to flip the public the bird because the internet keeps calling the nobility out on their lies and that simply will not do.

Blake C. Stacey (profile) says:

“This coalition brings new voices and diverse perspectives to Washington’s current Section 230 debate, which too often focuses on the largest internet platforms,” [Ackil] said in a statement. The group plans to explain to policymakers how the companies see the core Section 230 protections as essential to the way they do business.

Not as bad as it could be, I suppose?

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Lars Yump, former Scandahoovian parachutist says:

There is NO contradiction!

It still strikes me as incredible that the same people who are demanding we dismantle 230 are also calling for antitrust actions — because those two things work in directly opposite ways.

NO, BIG HOST corporations immunized yet controlling everyone’s Publishing is the key problem with S230, and antitrust is needed because they’re TOO BIG.

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James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: There is NO contradiction!

Your logical fallacy comes in the assumption that section 230 reform will make big platforms small.

Section 230 reform would serve to further consolidate "Hosts". Reform would only serve to move general content moderation the direction of copyright-related moderation as safe harbor stop being automatic. To avoid Vemio-like deaths where the company wins in court but goes bankrupt doing so, hosts will consolidate to create big enough war chests to survive as YouTube did.

If you want anti-trust, with the goal of making tech companies smaller, requiring them to be big to continue to operate is contradictory.

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Lars Yump, former Scandahoovian parachutist says:

Re: Re: There is NO contradiction!

Your logical fallacy comes in the assumption that section 230 reform will make big platforms small.

That’s your mistake of my view. Antitrust is obviously separate. Are you NOT clear that I want Facebook and all others BIG to be broken up? If so, you didn’t read all!

Now, say: "Oh, that’s different! Never mind!", as Gilda Radner’s character used to.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Reforming 230 in a way that keeps Facebook, Google, etc. on top but crushes smaller competitors won’t have any bearing on antitrust issues. It will, however, severely limit how many places you can go to bitch about your personal pet peeves.

Facebook, Google, etc. have the clout and the money to fight off lawsuits. A small Mastodon instance does not. Should the existence of the Mastodon instance be sacrificed so people can sue Facebook, Google, and their ilk?

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bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: There is NO contradiction!

Let me ask a different question: If all the big companies get broken up into small companies through antitrust actions, why would you need to change §230, which protects companies of all sizes as well as individuals equally?

After all, you have said that the only problem with §230 is having a few large companies being able to moderate with impunity, so if there are many small companies, wouldn’t that solve the problem? Removing §230 would make life much harder for small companies, too.

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Lars Yump, former Scandahoovian parachutist says:

Corporations don't have any right to BE big.

Key problem is you simply cannot conceive of antitrust action EVER being legitimate, so cannot see the obvious solution. Taking BIG corporations apart was never discussed favorably in your elitist Ivy League school, and hasn’t happened in your lifetime.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Corporations don't have any right to BE big.

But Publishers (including electronic media) got through the paper era without immunity,

By being very selective about what they published. Before the Internet most peoples voices were silenced, or limited to an audience of family and friends. Publishers, political parties, newspapers, and churches had a huge amount of control over public conversations, because they had the the means of controlling what the larger public heard. Later radio and TV became influential, but most people were effective held silent, except when a protest movement became popular.

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Lars Yump, former Scandahoovian parachutist says:

"dating sites" euphemism for open solicitation of prostitution

After FOSTA passed, a number of dating sites shut down… just in time for Facebook to launch its own dating site.

SO? "dating sites", your euphemism for open solicitation of prostitution, which were acting criminally were stopped, and Facebook, presumably acting within the new LAW, you now, within FOSTA, has taken over? HOW do you even manage to slant that as bad, Maz? By what perverted thinking do you equate criminals with merely vastly too big but NON-criminal?

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Lars Yump, former Scandahoovian parachutist says:

There's nothing particularly wrong with HOST immunity...

This is disappointing, but understandable. All three companies have relied heavily on 230 in a variety of lawsuits over the years.

AGAIN, the part you always leave out is that HOSTS are acting as Publishers in taking down any speech they don’t approve of. THAT changes the new forums that S230 establishes back into same old rules as print, except that now the Publishers are entirely immune! WHAT benefit to The Public is there, then?

Yesterday you trotted out the "freedom of association" by which you claim that HOSTS will still be able to control! WHAT’S THE DIFF, Maz? Except that HOSTS acting as Publishers will become LIABLE? But The Public is still controlled!

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Lars Yump, former Scandahoovian parachutist says:

Re: Re: YES. If by Common and Brandenburg, then YES.

Yes or no: Do you believe the government should force interactive web services to host all legally protected speech?

Has that not been clear?

You’ve stated that you’re going to decide who’s a Nazi and deserves equal rights, claiming you’re forced to see it, and who is to be locked in network ghettos.

Is that unfair paraphrase of your position?

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Lars Yump, former Scandahoovian parachutist says:

Re: Re: Re:2 YES. If OK by Common LAW and Brandenburg, then YES.

And another point, A. Stephen Stone: YOU are often foul and nasty, besides off-topic, so YOU should be moderated NOT me. Maz of course provides The Heckler’s Veto here, besides allows you fanboys to say whatever want.

And a related point: society doesn’t work unless everyone is civil. That’s included in "Common Law". If you wouldn’t say it in person, and a barkeeper wouldn’t find it acceptable, then should be moderated.

(By the way, it’s not escaped my notice that fanboys are trying to play civil of late. And you HERE are not showing your nasty side. YOU have two sides. I don’t.)

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3

If you wouldn’t say it in person, and a barkeeper wouldn’t find it acceptable, then should be moderated.

This distinction is irrelevant. Racial slurs are protected speech, but the average person likely wouldn’t find those acceptable in most contexts.

Yes or no: Do you believe the government should force interactive web services to host all legally protected speech?

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bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 YES. If OK by Common LAW and Brandenburg, then Y

Neither common law nor Brandenburg (which is part of common law, BTW) outlaw uncivil or rude speech; on the contrary, such speech still receives protection under the 1A. So no, the idea that society doesn’t work unless everyone is civil is very much not included in common law; quite the opposite. Basically, you’ve just contradicted yourself.

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Lars Yump, former Scandahoovian parachutist says:

Re: Re: Re:4 YOU have been answered YES, WITHIN "COMMON LAW".

ME: If you wouldn’t say it in person, and a barkeeper wouldn’t find it acceptable, then should be moderated.

YOU: This distinction is irrelevant. Racial slurs are protected speech, but the average person likely wouldn’t find those acceptable in most contexts.

YOU have been answered YES, WITHIN "COMMON LAW".

Now, I’m not going round any more on your attempt at GOTCHA, because I’m entirely explicit.

If you wouldn’t say it in person, and a barkeeper wouldn’t find it acceptable, then should be moderated.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5

“Common law” is legal precedent set by courts, most often by the highest court in the land. “Common law” says the speech you believe should be moderated is legally protected (unless it results in the incitement of imminent lawless action). If that wasn’t true, copies of To Kill a Mockingbird and Blazing Saddles (among other creative works) would be illegal to produce and distribute. That makes your opinion of what speech should be moderated at worst irrelevant, at best a conflict with your opinion of what speech the government should force interactive web services to host.

You can’t say “the government should force Twitter to host all legal speech”, then turn around and say “except for this legal speech which I find offensive”. The two positions cancel each other out — either you want forced hosting of all speech or you want Twitter admins to moderate speech they don’t want (and you claim to believe shouldn’t be) hosted on Twitter. So which position do you truly hold?

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 YOU have been answered YES, WITHIN "COMMON LAW".

Here’s the problem with that: speech that falls under

If you wouldn’t say it in person, and a barkeeper wouldn’t find it acceptable, then should be moderated.

is actually protected speech under common law, not banned speech. In other words, such speech is legal, which means either your answer to the previous question should have been “no” or your answer to the second question should have been “yes”. By answering “yes” to the first and “no” to the second, you have contradicted yourself.

Again, speech that is protected speech is, by definition, speech that cannot be prohibited or punished by the government. That’s why it’s protected. Whether or not it’s polite is 100% irrelevant to whether it’s covered by common law.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 YOU have been answered YES, WITHIN "COMMON LAW".

"If you wouldn’t say it in person, and a barkeeper wouldn’t find it acceptable, then should be moderated."

A barkeeper wouldn’t find your obnoxious, abusive behaviour acceptable, and he would ask you to leave for the sake of his other customers. He would also reserve the right to stop you returned at a later date after being kicked out too many times.

So, you’re supporting yourself being kicked out of this site permanently instead of what’s happening to you now? Interesting…

ECA (profile) says:

Have we considered..

That all of this is to condense the WHOLE of the internet?
They dont want to deal with 10,000+ small companies. they want the MAIN companies responsible for everything ON their systems.

Lets put it this way. They dont want the NEED to improve the IRS in tracking all these smaller companies to get taxes.
If the IRS could track Every business in every state, as well as match up all the internet sites and Ownership, and then send out Bills for taxes, based on the traffic and business estimated. It wouldnt be that hard to do it to the larger corps.
Can you see being able to get taxes from ANY site in the world, that does USA business over the internet?
Would take allot of power to monitor and track all those sources, and collect all taxes on all purchases.
Let alone Showing that all those taxes means the rest of us DONT NEED to pay taxes.

errol scrunched says:

another option

They have another option, and that is to spend some money on publicising the so called reforms and getting these jack asses kicked out by the electorate. Go buy a large advertising slate and destroy these rogue politicians and severly weaken them. thats the option i would take. fight, fight and fight.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: another option

Nah. The wisest option is for Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc. to stop censoring people who don’t take their marching orders from anti-American Leftists.

If they’d police their own behavior, the big business Thought Police wouldn’t have patriots repeatedly smacking them around.

Big business Leftists are like other bullies: give them a beating is the only lesson they understand.

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