The Internet Is Not Just Facebook, Google & Twitter: Creating A 'Test Suite' For Your Great Idea To Regulate The Internet

from the test-it-out dept

A few weeks ago, Stanford’s Daphne Keller — one of the foremost experts on internet regulation — highlighted how so much of the effort at internet reform seems to treat “the internet” as if it was entirely made up of Facebook, Google and Twitter. These may be the most visible sites to some, but they still make up only a small part of the overall internet (granted: sometimes it seems that Facebook and, to an only slightly lesser extent, Google, would like to change that, and become “the internet” for most people). Keller pointed out that the more that people — especially journalists — talk about the internet as if it were just those three companies, the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, in part because it drives regulation that is uniquely focused on the apparently “problems” associated with those sites (often mis- and disinformation).

I was reminded of this now, with the reintroduction of the PACT Act. As I noted in my writeup about the bill, one of the biggest problems is that it treats the internet as if every website is basically Google, Facebook, and Twitter. The demands that it puts on websites aren’t a huge deal for those three companies — as they mostly meet the criteria already. The only real change it would make for those sites is that they’d maybe have to beef up their customer support staff to have telephone support.

But for tons of other companies — including Techdirt — the bill is an utter disaster. It treats us the same as it treats Facebook, and acts like we need to put in place a massive, expensive customer service/content moderation operation that wouldn’t make any sense, and would only serve to enable our resident trolls to demand that we have to provide a detailed explanation why the community voted down their comments.

In that same thread, Keller suggested something that I think would be quite useful. Saying that there should be a sort of “test suite” of websites that anyone proposing internet regulation should have to explore how the regulations would effect those sites.

She suggested that the test suite could include Wikipedia, Cloudflare, Automattic, Walmart.com and the NY Times.

I’d extend that list significantly. Here would be mine:

  • Wikipedia
  • Github
  • Cloudflare
  • Zoom
  • Clubhouse
  • Automattic
  • Amazon
  • Shopify
  • NY Times / WSJ
  • Patreon
  • Internet Archive
  • Mastodon
  • Reddit
  • Nextdoor
  • Steam (Valve)
  • Eventbrite
  • Discord
  • Dropbox
  • Yelp
  • Twilio
  • Substack
  • Matrix
  • Glitch
  • Kickstarter
  • Slack
  • Stack Overflow
  • Notion
  • Airtable
  • WikiHow
  • ProductHunt
  • Instructables
  • All Trails
  • Strava
  • Bumble
  • Ravelry
  • DuoLingo
  • Shapeways
  • Coursera
  • Kahoot
  • Threadless
  • Bandcamp
  • Magic Cafe
  • Wattpad
  • Figma
  • LibraryThing
  • Fandom
  • Geocaching
  • VSCO
  • BoardGameGeek
  • DnDBeyond
  • GuitarMasterClass
  • Metafilter
  • BoingBoing
  • Cameo
  • OnlyFans
  • Archive of Our Own
  • Itch.io
  • Etsy
  • Tunecore
  • Techdirt

This list may feel a bit long for a “test suite” (and, indeed, as I started to put it together, I expected it to be much shorter). But, as I thought about each of these sites, I realized that they all deal with user generated content and content moderation questions — and for each one, the moderation questions are handled in vastly different ways. The list could be a lot longer. These are just ones that I came up with quickly.

And… that’s kind of the point. The great thing about Section 230 is that it allows each of these websites to take their own approach to content moderation, an approach that fits their community. Some of them rely on users to moderate. Some of them rely on a content moderation team. But if you ran through this list and explored something like the PACT Act — or the even worse SAFE-TECH Act — you quickly realize that it would create impossible demands for many, many of these sites.

Incredibly, all this would do is move most of the functions of many of these sites — especially the small, niche, targeted communities… over to the internet giants of Facebook and Google. Does anyone legitimately think that a site like LibraryThing needs to issue twice-a-year transparency reports on its content moderation decisions? Or that All Trails should be required to set up a live call center to respond to complaints about content moderation? Should Matrix be required to create an Acceptable Use Policy? Should the NY Times have to release a transparency report regarding what comments it moderated?

For many of the companies — especially the more niche community sites — the likely response is that there’s no way that they can even do that. And so many of those sites will go away, or will vastly curtail their community features. And, that takes us right back to the point that we started with, as raised by Keller. When we treat the internet as if it’s just Facebook, Google, and Twitter, and regulate it as such, then it’s going to drive all communities to Facebook, Google, and Twitter as the only companies which can actually handle the compliance.

And why would anyone (other than perhaps Facebook, Google, and Twitter!) want that?

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Companies: facebook, google, twitter

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Comments on “The Internet Is Not Just Facebook, Google & Twitter: Creating A 'Test Suite' For Your Great Idea To Regulate The Internet”

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71 Comments
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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Rather than “Mastodon” as a generality, I’d put “at least one U.S.-based Mastodon instance” on that list for specificity’s sake. Regulating social media services such as Twitter also means regulating those Masto instances. Since they’re nowhere near as large as Twitter, regulations aimed at Twitter but applying to all social media services would likely fuck over those Masto instances — most, if not all, of which are not corporate-owned.

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Éibhear (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’d look at it from the opposite angle. Forcing a particular set of regulations on any mastodon instance (or matrix instance, referring to Mike’s list) would have an impact on all instances it federates with. This would be an important insight for the policy maker to be aware of.

Instead, what I do when talking about internet-related policy is to speak about "services" rather than web sites. Some services are monolithic, like FB, twitter, etc., some services are federated, like Matrix or Mastodon, and other services sit within a suite of seemingly-indepedent services operated by the same organisations (Google, being the prime example, but Wikimedia’s services would be another).

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Miner 49 says:

Re: On the ZOMBIE front, here's "Derek" out, 2nd 2 year gap!

Derek: 46 (<5), TWO 2 year gaps to ’21; 28 Jan 2011 https://www.techdirt.com/user/derekrost

Isn’t it amazing that RARE commentors pop out after LONG silence the fewer comments here become?

Then, in checking my list, found anomaly of TWO OTHER "Derek" names, staggeringly popular among so few:

DerekCurrie: 62 (6), gone RIP (Resting Internet Personage) May 28th, 2019, but went for 12 years since 4 Apr 2006! https://www.techdirt.com/user/derekcurrie

And yet the last is oddest, check out the number of POSTS, not comments:

Derek Kerton: 2620 (131), OLDEST found! 30 Apr 2001 https://www.techdirt.com/user/derek — the odd but typical 18 month gap between 2nd and 3rd comments… once prolific: 762 POSTS!

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Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: On the ZOMBIE front, here's "Derek" out, 2nd 2 year gap!

I appreciate the shout out.
Yes, 762 ARTICLES, not just comments!!
Also, they hold up pretty well.

Thanks for keeping stats. I feel like a pro baseball player.
What’s the bracketed (131)…you know what, just post the answer here. I’ll come back and check in 18 months.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Too US centric

"Should we not add non-US sites to this? Alibaba, Kremlin.ru, Sueddeutsche Zeitung,"

The US is alone among the mentioned examples to have a legislative structure which requires a specific clause to protect intermediates from 3rd-party liability in this way.

The rest of the world usually has 3rd party liability sensibly handled in their basic telecommunications laws.

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Anonymous Coward says:

This list may feel a bit long for a "test suite"

Maybe not long enough, especially as numbers impress politicians. I would add Jamendo, Hacker Public Radio, Instructables, Hackaday and Sourceforge to that list. xkcd and DILBERT are probably safe, as they do have user content.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'Dance my little puppets, dance.'

You almost want Google, Twitter and Facebook to be pulling the strings here, because the alternative is that the politicians involved are just so stupid, so eager to score points with the gullible that they’re tripping over themselves to pass/gut laws to ‘Reign In Big Tech!’ that will instead merely cement their positions in place and keep them from ever being challenged or having to give a damn about their users because they know there isn’t and never will be a viable competitor.

Those companies may be the biggest ones in the room but it is a big room with a lot of companies and platforms, so any attempt at regulation or coercion should always be looked at through the lens of how it will affect those other companies first, because what would be a minor annoyance to a platform like Facebook could be utterly devastating to a smaller company.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: 'Dance my little puppets, dance.'

^This right there!

This is how conspiracy theories are born. You find ass-backwards legislation which sounds tailor-made to put a few big companies in monopoly power forever by law, and you start assuming that this must be the result of shady guys in trenchcoats handing suitcases of big bills from Big Tech to politicians in dark parking lots. Because the opposite would mean every actor involved is too dumb or uncaring for words.

And yet the truth is that a large base consisting of americas most outrageous and nauseating assholes are tired of being showed the door everywhere and have been clamoring for their elected representatives to "do something".
And then said representatives either mindlessly going along with legislation they fail to see will have those asshole voters banned from every platform, forever, and the major actors becoming monopolies entrenched by law…or not giving a shit about the likely outcome and just raise their fist and holler, as long as that gets them through the next election.

There’s no saving the US. This sooner or later ends in some form of emergency-empowered politburo desperately trying to haul the nation out of the smoking ruins of what used to be a vibrant industry of tech and progress. Probably with half the citizenry crying out their grievances over their destroyed country at a picture of Goldstein in scheduled hate rituals.

sumgai (profile) says:

I don’t have any sites to add, indeed I’m surprised at just how many I’ve never heard of before, and seemingly more than one person here regards them as a viable candidate for test purposes. But I do want to say that this is going to drive into full fruition Mike’s plea for moving to protocols instead of services. I think he’s on the correct track with that idea.

Oh, and remember Steve Case, know who he is/was? That’s right, he was the head honcho of AOL, and now you’ll recall that once upon a time, AOL thought to induce people into thinking that they were The Internet, full stop right there. When people figured out what he was up to, that came crashing down in a record 15 or 20 microseconds of Internet time, which equates to perhaps half an hour in real time. This new idea of regulation will involve "Government Time ", which as we all know is about 200x slower than real time, so the crap will last for perhaps 6 months, but rest assured, it won’t ever get on a good solid footing, too many lawyers will see to that in innumerable court cases… for the reasons mentioned above.

And offshore websites will have to toe the line as well, because American sites have to fall in line with any EU regulation governing the Internet. Tit for tat, and all that. (Me personally, were I an American-based site, I’d tell the EU to get bent. But that’s just me.)

All I can say is "fun and games for everyone!". But in the end, the only ones who will profit are, of course, the lawyers. Jesus Christ on a jumped-up Pogo stick, how did we ever come to this state of affairs?

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Ven'Tatsu says:

There might be some value in grouping these by type and trying to find a unusual or niche example for each. For example Discord has many of the conferencing features of Zoom, but also has the text chat features of Slack, but it’s still a mostly general purpose communications platform. Roll20 on the other had also has built in video and voice chat, along with text chat, but its intended usage is very different than any of the other three.
Any regulations that would be place on video conferencing like Zoom might also impact Roll20, but may or may not make any sense when applied to a virtual tabletop with integrated video chat.

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Miner 49 says:

Re: How many decimal places is Techdirt down from Facebook?

As glanced down that list, thought it’d be funny for me to write a dig of "add Techdirt" to it, then to my surprise found that Maz already had, apparently seriously. Yet again underestimated him. He has NO self-awareness, but does have more chutzpah than any hundred normal people. Told ya for years, Maz, you should write to train people in self-assertiveness (euphemize your shameless self-promotion), and you could have been FAMOUS. — But instead for 20 years you kibbitz and carp that the stupid meanies who make content just won’t follow your advice and give it away for free.

ANYHOO, no, Maz, let’s start with the biggies NOW and make them tractable, NOT take your bait of indefinite delay while trying to figure out so every last tiny little 25,000th place site gets treated to its own self-serving notion of "fairly". — If can make Facebook obey (which IS HIGHLY UNLIKELY given the treachery of "legislators" that it buys wholesale), then we could worry about Techdirt in due course.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Question, Brainy: For what reason should the government regulate a 100-person Mastodon instance in the exact same way as Facebook or Twitter?

Sidebar: For what reason should any regulation aimed at the moderation efforts of Facebook or Twitter be limited only to them when any other company could take their place in due time?

Take your time; I know thinking about things that don’t involve your feelings goes slow for you.

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Anonymous Coward says:

When the government says "soak the rich"–they always mean "soak the people who aren’t rich enough to afford lawyers", and by "rich" they mean "having anything worth fencing or pawning."

I have dogs in this hunt: my name as a contributor to over 1000 books, about as many MIDI song sequences, a few tens of thousands of edits, all to public reference sites–sites that are not Google/Facebook/Twitter and could not afford lawyering up against this kind of totalitarian mind-control. People all over the world have let me know how valuable these contributions are. And all of that is put at risk by politicians who do not want to know what people thought, they just want to control what people will think.

Anonymous Coward says:

The only real change it would make for [Google and Facebook] is that they’d maybe have to beef up their customer support staff to have telephone support.

To be fair, that would be a massive change for the better. Especially for YouTube, where being unable to reach a human being for support has long been a major complaint by YouTubers and viewers alike, not to mention the many Techdirt articles over the years about their infamous opacity. Telling them that they don’t get to do that to us anymore would be a big win.

Anonymous Coward says:

Many usa websites block all eu ip adress,s in order to avoid having to comply with eu law.
maybe older politicans only use twitter,
youtube, facebook, email,
the average usa senator is over 50 years old.
are they so stupid or short sighted they dont understand small websites cant afford to employ 100s of moderators, to respond to every troll who gets blocked or banned.
also many forums have users who act as unpaid moderators .
the internet is now the no 1 medium for communication ,free speech and
a venue for minoritys to organise and protest.
Any changes to section 230 is likely to reduce chill speech and the chance for new apps and startups to thrive.

Alex Mushland says:

Couldn’t Websites just put there servers in other countries??

I have a feeling if this PACT ACT goes through, Techdirt will. Eliminate its comment line. Couldn’t websites just put there servers in other countries like Iceland and leave American servers to avoid this law? I mean if section 230 as it is no longer exist I would no longer want to host my website in America because there would be to many regulations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Couldn’t Websites just put there servers in other countrie

Yes it would

The two most popular figure skating message boards are both located outside the United States, so they are not subject to United States laws.

GoldenSkate is in Canada and Figure Skating Universe (FSU) is in Britain, so the owners of those websites are not subject to United States laws in any way.

GoldenSkate only has to obey Canadian laws, and Figure Skating Universe only has to obey British laws.

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sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Couldn’t Websites just put there servers in other countrie

In a word, nope.

As written, if you’re living within the confines of American soil, then it doesn’t matter where any servers sit – if you are in control in some fashion, whether by actual and direct administration, or merely as a financial underpinning, you are required to obey the laws of this land. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a citizen or not, You Will Obey.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Couldn’t Websites just put there servers in other coun

The mistake Ross Ulbricht made was not accessing the admin part of silk road without using Tor.

Had he used Tor to acess his own site, instead of inputting the IP address for is site directly, his location would have never been found, and he would be the richest man in America, today, considering much much Bitcoins have appreciated enough in value to where I think he would have been a trillionaire by now.

Like the guy who ran Joker’s Stash, he could have shut down, waited a few years, cashed out his bitcoins, and be a trillionaire now.

That is why the proprieter of Joker’s Stash will never be caught, now that he has shut down his site. He, and other dark web operators, have learned that you want to use Tor, proxies, or VPN to access the admin part of their sites, so their locations will never be traced.

In a few years, when this dude can cash out his Bitcoins, whoever it is will be one of the richest men in America. He has got it MADE.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Couldn’t Websites just put there servers in other coun

"As written, if you’re living within the confines of American soil, then it doesn’t matter where any servers sit…"

So in other words the freedom of the US public debate online might rely on the charity of expats setting up boards and forums within German, French or Nordic jurisdictions?

I don’t have the words.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Couldn’t Websites just put there servers in other countrie

Couldn’t websites just put there servers in other countries like Iceland and leave American servers to avoid this law?

Not if your site needs significant bandwidth, as then you need servers close to to major audiences. Either you run your on data centres like Google, Amazon, hire servers in a server farm, which worked out well for Kim Dotcom. contract with a CDN like Cloudflare. To serve the US, you end up with servers on US soil one way or another.

An alternative would be torrents, but that will not work well in the US because of data caps. Also, the way the legal system can be weaponised against individuals make torrents a high risk.

Anonymous Coward says:

I would not be surprised if Congress makes some kind of laws regarding VPNs

Disneyland, and other parks, plan to enforce the ban on out of state visitors by looking up your IP adress when you make a reservation to see if you are on a computer in California.

One could use a VPN with California servers, to make it look like you were in California, and Disneyland, Knotts, etc., would never know what you were up to.

While this might violate health and safety laws at the state level, using a proxy or VPN to bypass the ban on out of state visitors would not violate the CFAA.

If this becomes a big problem, I could see Congress quickly updating both section 230 and the CFAA to address this.

Right now that would not violate felony provisions of the CFAA, because you are not doing any kind of intentional damage to their websites.

You have to have either used an illegally obtained password and/or have intentinally done some kind of damage to their network

Under the CFAA, as it is now, using a VPN or proxy make it looks to the web sits of these theme parks to make it look you are in California when making a reservation does not fall under this.

It do see some kinds of changes regarding VPNs and section 230 coming becuase people will try to circumvent the ban on out of state visitors by using a proxy or VPN to bypass that.

I could see section 230 amended to make VPN servers liable if people use them for things like circumventing the ban on out of state visitors to Disneyland and other parks.

I do see a possible total repeal of 230 happening, because I do think that Disney, Cedar Fair, and others will lobby for that when people do start using proxies and VPNs in California to bypass the ban on out of state visitors.

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Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Banking, Netflix, & Chill

Good starting list, Mike. A Focus on UGC, for sure.

You make no claims that your list is exhaustive, but I’ll just point out that entire categories would need to be added. Banking, for example, is an important use of the Internet, so I’d need to see small and large banks, investment firms.

Also, so many of the bits today are video content from the likes of Netflix, and other players big and small. Of course, we should be sure those are well-represented in the test suite.

Marginalized Communities often bear the brunt of bad policy. So sites from minority affinity groups, or the ACLU, SPLC, NAACP, etc should all be there.

Basically, even if the list had 1,000 companies, it would still be missing important "test cases".

But for starters, the next time Congress calls "Internet companies" to DC to sit in front of some Committee that doesn’t understand shit…PLEASE DO NOT MAKE IT THE SAME GAFA COMPANIES every single time, as if they represent "Silicon Valley", tech, the web, or innovation. They don’t. What you get is opinions that represent two constituencies:
1 Billionaires
2 Giant Tech Incumbents

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Banking, Netflix, & Chill

the next time Congress calls "Internet companies" to DC to sit in front of some Committee that doesn’t understand shit…PLEASE DO NOT MAKE IT THE SAME GAFA COMPANIES

Do recall that because these companies are the only ones that donate to political campaigns, they are the only ones on any senator’s radar. Moral of the story: if you don’t give them cash, they won’t know you exist. Further moral: stay small, and/or hide your profits so that they don’t know how big you actually are, and thus will escape their notice.

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