If Your Takeaway From Facebook's Whistleblower Is That Section 230 Needs Reform, You Just Got Played By Facebook

from the that's-what-it-wants dept

Here we go again. Yesterday, the Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, testified before the Senate Commerce Committee. Frankly, she came across as pretty credible and thoughtful, even if I completely disagree with some of her suggestions. I think she’s correct about some of the problems she witnessed, and the misalignment of incentives facing Facebook’s senior management. However, her understanding of the possible approaches to deal with it is, unfortunately, a mixed bag.

Of course, for the Senators in the hearing, it became the expected exercise in confirmation bias, in which they each insisted that their plan to fix the internet would solve the problems Haugen detailed. And, not surprisingly, many of them insisted that Section 230 was the issue, and that if you magically changed 230 and made companies more liable, they’d somehow be better. Leaving aside that there is zero evidence to support this (and plenty of evidence to suggest the opposite is true), the most telling bit in all of this is that if you think changing Section 230 is the answer Facebook agrees with you. It’s exactly what Facebook wants. See the smarmy, tone-deaf, self-serving statement the company put out in response to the hearing:

Today, a Senate commerce subcommittee held a hearing with a former product manager at Facebook who worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives — and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question. We don’t agree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about. Despite all this, we agree on one thing; it’s time to begin to create standard rules for the internet. It’s been 25 years since rules for the internet have been updated, and instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions that belong to legislators, it is time for Congress to act.

Facebook has been blanketing Washington DC (and elsewhere, but mostly DC) with ads saying that it’s time to update internet laws that haven’t changed since 1996. And that message is very clearly talking about Section 230.

Earlier this year, also in front of Congress, Mark Zuckerberg came out in favor of Section 230 reform. The company’s plan really isn’t all that different than what some elected officials are now proposing in a variety of short-sighted bills: increase liability on the companies for failure to have “best practices.” But as we’ve noted, what’s clear is that Facebook is one of the few companies that can afford that liability. Facebook can afford the expensive lawyers to go to court and show that their system of dealing with this stuff (which we already know doesn’t work very well) is a “best practice” leading them to get these cases dismissed.

Smaller companies are going to be bankrupted by this. And those that aren’t bankrupted are going to end up turning to Facebook to handle their moderation, so that they can rely on Facebook’s legal might. It’s going to entrench Facebook’s power position, limit competition, and wipe out more innovative approaches. Of course Facebook supports this nonsense.

So for those who are still supporting changes to Section 230 and even pointing to Haugen’s testimony: congrats, you got played by Facebook. You’re advocating for exactly what Facebook wants.

I forget who I’ve heard say this (perhaps it was Cory Doctorow?), but, paraphrasing, the statement was that of course a company would prefer no regulation, but the 2nd best thing to no regulation is being heavily regulated, because as long as you’re at the top of the heap and know you can deal with the regulators, you’ve got a massive advantage that no other company can deal with. And, for a company that is so paranoid about competition, and is unsure how to continue winning against upstarts, leaning on the US government to “regulate” the space is a godsend. It’s exactly what Facebook wants, and those supporting it are playing into Facebook’s hands.

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Comments on “If Your Takeaway From Facebook's Whistleblower Is That Section 230 Needs Reform, You Just Got Played By Facebook”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Facebook is a for-profit business???

Wait, hold on now… you’re telling me that Facebook isn’t a public forum… it’s gasp a for profit business that wants to make … money???

Oh my gosh, how dare they want to make money and stay in business! And now they’re using anti-competitive techniques to make sure that no-one else will knock them from their position of dominance? Like other huge corporations that have in the past?

I just never thought I’d live to see the day when the internet became about business instead of the free exchange of ideas … and porn.


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Koby (profile) says:

Revolving Door

We’ve pointed out how some corporate executives have government officials, which often involves them in charge of regulating the very companies for which they were formerly employed. And then after their time in government, they magically get a cushy and well-paying job back at the corporation. Very crony. Haugen testified that she wants to see a government division in charge of regulating internet companies. Make no mistake — the system will be rigged.

Coffee U (profile) says:

I can hardly believe section 230 exists as it does.

Like it seems to prescient to be both what was needed to allow growth in thoughts, and not needlessly stupid in the ways that congressional laws somehow work.

What I’d like to know is why some people are thinking that "moderation and curation" are different from "moderation and curation via algorithm" ? Sure, the first is done by a person, who are taking orders/guidance from some part of the coproration/business. But the latter is designed/written by a person (or people) who taking orders/guidance from some part of the coproration/business.

Yes, algorithms can have actual bugs, but trying to pass of unintended effects; those can come from the same people (E.g. white reviewers not seeing microaggressions; even if told about their existence) as algorithms.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'It's got a lock and heavy door, whatever shall I do?'

At this point Facebook arguing in favor of 230 ‘reform’ isn’t even a case of ‘oh no, please don’t toss me into that briar patch’ it’s ‘oh no, please don’t put me into that secure house that protects me from you but leaves all the other rabbits at your mercy’.

To all those that are itching to gut 230 the fact that Facebook is on their side, despite the fact that it’s being used as one of the examples of why 230 needs to be gutted or killed entirely, should be all they need to see to understand that they’re being played and far from punishing ‘Big Tech’ they are dancing to it’s tune, leaving them either fools or exposing how much they actually hate those social media platforms/companies.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'It's got a lock and heavy door, whatever shall I do?'

Well, if Facebook is in favor of something, maybe you should see why that is. It could also be one of those "broken 24-hour clocks being right" thing. That doesn’t mean that Facebook and everybody in the Senate not named Ron Wyden is right here; it just means that an evil entity being in favor of something shouldn’t necessitate a knee-jerk reaction but an examination as to ulterior motives.

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Anonymous Coward says:

It’s even sadder that the whistleblower said change 230 to exempt algorithms but she is playing into Facebook’s hands.

Pardon my conspiracy theory but maybe, and this is completely baseless but what if this was all being done on purpose by Facebook to spur congress into once again carving up 230?

Again, completely baseless speculation but still.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Pardon my conspiracy theory but maybe, and this is completely baseless but what if this was all being done on purpose by Facebook to spur congress into once again carving up 230?

Again, completely baseless speculation but still.

Your conspiracy theory is baseless, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility. At least you have the humility to call it a "baseless conspiracity theory" and say "I know it happened for a fact!!!!11" like so many grifters…

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Pseudonymous Coward says:

the 2nd best thing to no regulation is being heavily regulated

As someone who’s worked for a variety of UK regulators over the last 15 years, I couldn’t agree more.

Some companies actually prefer heavy regulation to none at all, for the simple reason that a regulator who tells them exactly what to do assumes much of the risk of things going wrong.

And, of course, the attractiveness of heavy regulation is greatly increased if you have ability to ‘influence’ said heavy regulation via lobbying or (assuming there’s a meaningful difference) corruption.

Over the years, I’ve found the following a pretty useful rule of thumb: "if anyone you’re regulating is entirely happy with your proposals, you’ve got them wrong".

Indeed, one measure of success I’ve seen used by UK utility regulators when setting price caps is the number of companies that choose to appeal. And on one occasion when the answer was "none of them", that was a sure sign we’d screwed up.

Anonymous Coward says:

That’s the takeaway from the average internet user and stupid parents (Including millennial parents). Anyone reading a techdirt/EFF article already knows congress wants to silence everyone except approved voices.

This "whistleblower" went from 60 minutes to testifying to congress in two days, that’s too quick. Clearly this is a stunt crafted by facebook and congress, the purpose of gaining more public support to censor the internet.

This is why I don’t support filibuster reform, it’s our only defense against shit like reforming CDA230 or 1st amendment violations like banning "hate" speech bills. The question is will Ron Wyden still help and if yes will thom tillis or some other a-hole politician stuff whatever censorship they’re crafting into another omnibus bill Wyden can’t oppose.

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s just silly. It wasn’t crafted by Facebook, but it was crafted by those with an agenda. The whistleblower had a PR team ready to go, one that was attached the misleading "Social Dilemma" documentary. And the WSJ articles -> 60 Minutes -> Congress was lined up a few weeks ago, not in 2 days.

Jojo (profile) says:

Re: Don’t worry (yet)

Right now, the path forward when and how Congress will tackle section 230, Facebook, or both, is unclear. It could take weeks, months, or even next year until we can actually see any progress on anything regarding either subject. This could potentially supercharge any regulations for the internet, or maybe it couldn’t (after all congress is busy with everything else right now [though a piece of me do think that the former is more likely]). It’s not the first time that Section 230 is in danger of being changed, and (hopefully) it’s not the last.

Glenn says:

There’s nothing especially wrong with Facebook, not to the extent that any kind of govt. action is necessary, presuming one supports free speech. There is something seriously wrong with a lot of the people who use Facebook. But, then, most people do tend to always want to blame "the other guy" instead of themselves–gotta have a scapegoat. And Congress always wants it to at least look like it’s doing something, which it usually isn’t. (Congress used to be a more functional body… back in the good old days.)

The whine and moan and point fingers circus rambles on.

JMT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"There’s nothing especially wrong with Facebook…"

There absolutely is something wrong with Facebook when they deliberately, methodically and efficiently manipulate the very people you say have something seriously wrong with them in order to make massive profits while negatively affecting millions of people around the globe.

That’s like arguing that loan sharks aren’t all that bad, it’s actually the people with poor financial skills that are the real problem.

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