Why Does The NY Times Seem Literally Incapable Of Reporting Accurately On Section 230?

from the what-the-fuck-is-going-on-over-there? dept

I should preface this piece by noting that there are good reporters at the NY Times who frequently do great work. But there are also a surprising number of dreadful reporters and editors who consistently seem to get key issues wrong. And one example of this is what appears to be a near institutional-level confusion over Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- and I say this even while noting that last summer, the Times had an excellent piece written by Sarah Jeong calling out politicians for misrepresenting Section 230. But she should write another piece about her own damn colleagues.

Just last fall, we covered multiple stories in which the NY Times got Section 230 so badly wrong that it often had to issue embarrassing corrections, including the time it put forth a full page massive headline blaming 230 for allowing hate speech online, only to have to later run an (online only) correction saying it was actually the 1st Amendment. That was bad. What was worse was that they kept getting it wrong all through the fall. Just a day after that first mistake, they mixed up the DMCA 512 and CDA 230, blaming CDA 230 for copyright infringement, despite the law explicitly saying it doesn't apply to intellectual property. Then there was a big piece that laughably blamed Section 230 for people dying which, astoundingly, made the identical mistake in swapping out DMCA 512 for CDA 230, and where the Times had to run the word-for-word identical correction from the previous time they had made that mistake.

So I guess it should be no surprise at all that with the latest attack on Section 230, the dangerous EARN IT Act -- which is a badly re-heated FOSTA with a lump of "break encryption" tossed on top -- the NY Times would get nearly every important detail wrong again. The original title, which has since been changed, claimed "U.S. to Hold Tech Firms Accountable for Spread of Child Sexual Imagery." But that's wrong on nearly every point. First, it's just a bill, it's not the law -- yet the title implies otherwise. This is Journalism 101 stuff that the NY Times absolutely should be better at.

Second, the bill is not about "holding firms accountable," but putting more liability on an intermediary to try to ramp up censorship -- and the whole point of the bill is to use that as a wedge by Bill Barr and the DOJ to undermine encryption. But ridiculously the NY Times, acting as stenographers for those introducing the bill, repeated the false claim that internet companies don't currently fight "child sexual exploitation material." Take, for example, this ridiculous tweet from Associate Managing Editor Dean Murphy, claiming that it's a response to "tech companies that do too little to block images of child sexual abuse."

But the whole reason the bill is coming about in the first place is that we have so much data about how widespread the issue of CSAM content is because platforms have worked closely with NCMEC to identify and delete such material, sharing hashes to block it from being reuploaded. The major platforms have gone above and beyond, including Microsoft creating PhotoDNA, which helps a bunch of platforms find, detect, and remove child exploitation photos. Facebook, Google, Twitter and more have whole teams that work on making sure such content is identified and removed rapidly. Cloudflare recently built and released similar technology for free for anyone who uses its platform (even at the free level) to find and remove exploitation images.

In other words, tech platforms have taken this issue seriously for years, and have worked hard to combat things. That's in contrast to the DOJ and Bill Barr, who have literally failed to abide by Congress' mandate to fight such material. The tech companies are handing over all the information necessary, and Barr's spending his time protecting his boss's buddies from prosecution, rather than actually going after the purveyors of child porn.

But, to the NY Times, this is all about tech companies "doing too little" and the US government finally "holding them responsible." It's utter nonsense, and the NY Times, of all papers, ought to do much better.

Filed Under: csam, earn it, encryption, intermediary liability, journalism, reporting, section 230, stenography
Companies: ny times


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 2:14pm

    'Ignorance' is only believable for so long

    Given the fact that they are repeatedly getting the same things wrong at this point I can only assume that it's deliberate, and either the writers have an axe to grind or they've been told by those above them to create a certain narrative, because the alternative would seem to be that one and all they have memory so bad that they literally cannot remember being called out on past articles and having to issue corrections thanks to having botched their articles so badly.

    Neither of those options are good, as in either case it means the NYT is beyond useless as a source if anyone wants to learn and/or be informed on anything 230 or tech related, and anyone interested in either would be better off going elsewhere. Worse, if they're getting something that important wrong(intentionally or not) that raises the question of what else is getting similar treatment, bringing everything they write into question.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 3:51pm

      Bias

      ...no mystery here -- this condition has long been known as "media bias".

      Reporters/Editors (and most people generally) develop subjective mental "Filters & Templates" to make sense of a complex world.

      New data each day is subconsciously 'filtered' to fit previously 'established' concepts of that topic.
      Objective research and analysis is a time consuming 'luxury' that few media people can afford in face of constant deadlines.

      GroupThink at specific news organizations and general media also kicks in to reinforce the biased filters & templates.

      We know that news media reporters/editors have a narrow spectrum of political/social views that are not representative of the American public at large.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2020 @ 2:08pm

        Re: Bias

        What you describe is one of several reasons to seek various sources of information from various points of view.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 5:10pm

      Re: 'Ignorance' is only believable for so long

      It's not that much of a surprise, most of the old school newspapers hate the likes of Google and Facebook (as they seem to think the money these companies make was 'stolen' from them) and as such they are quite happy to jump on any agenda that may hurt them regardless of the collateral damage, or that stuff like this just entrenches the likes of google and facebook as they at least have the money to pay lawyers to fend off the lawsuits whilst a new start-up would be bankrupted before they even got a chance.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 8:41pm

        Re: Re: 'Ignorance' is only believable for so long

        And that's the part that brings a facepalm every time. If someone hates Google and/or Facebook lying like this is the worst choice, as trying to get burdensome regulations/rules in place are just going to lock the likes of Google/Facebook in place and make them more powerful.

        If someone really wants to stick it to those two companies then they should be working overtime to make it easier for competition to enter the market and thrive, not harder.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2020 @ 4:00am

          Re: Re: Re: 'Ignorance' is only believable for so long

          They are fundamentally luddite monopolist in their thinking. They don't want any competition to Google and Facebook as it would turn it from two dragons which can theoretically be slain into a many headed hydra that cannot.

          They really hate the underlying technology the most for interfering with "their" money and respect. Not seeing that the problem is in the mirror.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 9 Mar 2020 @ 3:29am

        Re: Re: 'Ignorance' is only believable for so long

        "...and as such they are quite happy to jump on any agenda that may hurt them regardless of the collateral damage"

        Too true. I can only imagine the debate between the legal counsel and the media company CEO;

        Counsel: "Sir, if this legislation wins it means first Google will be beaten with an iron rod. Then that iron rod will be heated until glowing and shoved up our rear so hard the steam will exit from our ears".

        CEO: "Google will get beaten withg an iron rod? Great! Throw all we've got behind that legislation!"

        Counsel: "Is this a good time to discuss me tendering my immediate resignation, sir?"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 2:17pm

    I should preface this piece by noting that there are good reporters at the NY Times who frequently do great work. But there are also a surprising number of dreadful reporters and editors who consistently seem to get key issues wrong. And one example of this is what appears to be a near institutional-level confusion over Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

    I'm reminded of Michael Crichton's famous comment on how this phenomenon is ubiquitous:

    “Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.
    “In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

    They don't screw up the stuff you understand but "frequently do excellent work" on the rest of it; they're pretty consistently awful across the board.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wyrm (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 3:37pm

      Re:

      As for myself, I would still trust them if they made one mistake, issued a correction then learned from it. Instead, they make a mistake, issue a correction, then repeat it. Over and over again.

      This shows that we can't trust them on anything. At least not without cross-referencing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 10:33pm

      Re:

      They don't screw up the stuff you understand but "frequently do excellent work" on the rest of it

      No, they frequently do good work on the stuff I understand. But on Section 230 they get a lot wrong. I make no judgment on the stuff I don't understand well.

      So this is not the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 3:08pm

    Um, who owns the NYT?

    Both Pulitzer and Hearst used their respective papers as a platform to push their own agendas. Why the heck would this practice stop now?

    As we've covered before, Officials, pundits and ministers will stay ignorant when their paycheck depends on their ignorance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 3:14pm

    Why are they stupid? I will tell you why they are stupid. Because they are not very smart.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 3:15pm

    Antibiotic resistant syphilis is a thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 3:40pm

    It's a shame that these same people get elected time and again, then show their complete ignorance on various issues and what is actually good or bad for the people they represent, by voting along with or introducing bills when they dont have a damn clue on the subject! Grandstanding is one thing, trying to look as if they're 'earning their pay and peoples respect' but showing their total ignorance, even their stupidity, there's no excuse for that!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 7 Mar 2020 @ 6:01pm

    Give them a break

    Give the NYT a break. They're terribly busy grinding their axe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 7 Mar 2020 @ 6:54pm

      Re: Give them a break

      They should look into getting one that can hold it's edge better so they don't have to keep sharpening it after every time they bury it in the tech sector's back.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 7 Mar 2020 @ 10:05pm

    Looks like Michael H. Keller is aiming to get into politics. He should run for president. No need to get facts straight. Just spout whatever narrative gets you some attention.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 8 Mar 2020 @ 3:37pm

    Could it have something to do with NYT editoral board members...

    ...who can't divide 5/3 without getting an answer of 1,000,000?

    https://thehill.com/homenews/media/486288-brian-williams-nyts-gay-roasted-over-math-flub- saddest-clip-in-tv-history

    How is it that Mara Gay still has a job? Is there no accountability at the NYT at all? Can you really humiliate your employer on national TV (by proving that they put people without the 2nd grade math skills on their editorial board) and still keep a job there?

    What is it about our elite institutions that puts people of demonstrated sub-normal intelligence at the top?

    (Or Brian Williams...)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2020 @ 9:53pm

    Why does the NY Times seem literally incapable of reporting accurately on Section 230? Guys, I think we just figured out where John Smith is hiding!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 11 Mar 2020 @ 7:25am

      Re:

      " Guys, I think we just figured out where John Smith is hiding!"

      No, if Jhon Smith (aka Out_of_the_blue, aka Bobmail or Baghdad Bob) was in the NYT then every editorial written would be describing how section 230 alone was responsible for every malfeasance since Pepi II started dipping slaves in honey. Also pirates. Always pirates.

      That the NYT actually manages to every now and then put facts on paper explicitly proves old Baghdad Bob isn't anywhere near that publication.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2020 @ 8:26am

    If we're gonna foist an impossible task on these companies, why not force them to stop child abuse altogether? There's way too much focus on the images.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.