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


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  1. 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.


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