Beware Of Facebook CEOs Bearing Section 230 Reform Proposals

from the good-for-facebook,-not-good-for-the-world dept

As you may know, tomorrow Congress is having yet another hearing with the CEOs of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, in which various grandstanding politicians will seek to rake Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and Sundar Pichai over the coals regarding things that those grandstanding politicians think Facebook, Twitter, and Google "got wrong" in their moderation practices. Some of the politicians will argue that these sites left up too much content, while others will argue they took down too much -- and either way they will demand to know "why" individual content moderation decisions were made differently than they, the grandstanding politicians, wanted them to be made. We've already highlighted one approach that the CEOs could take in their testimony, though that is unlikely to actually happen. This whole dog and pony show seems all about no one being able to recognize one simple fact: that it's literally impossible to have a perfectly moderated platform at the scale of humankind.

That said, one thing to note about these hearings is that each time, Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg inches closer to pushing Facebook's vision for rethinking internet regulations around Section 230. Facebook, somewhat famously, was the company that caved on FOSTA, and bit by bit, Facebook has effectively lead the charge in undermining Section 230 (even as so many very wrong people keep insisting we need to change 230 to "punish" Facebook). That's not true. Facebook is now perhaps the leading voice for changing 230, because the company knows that it can survive without it. Others? Not so much. Last February, Zuckerberg made it clear that Facebook was on board with the plan to undermine 230. Last fall, during another of these Congressional hearings, he more emphatically supported reforms to 230.

And, for tomorrow's hearing, he's driving the knife further into 230's back by outlining a plan to further cut away at 230. The relevant bit from his testimony is here:

One area that I hope Congress will take on is thoughtful reform of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Over the past quarter-century, Section 230 has created the conditions for the Internet to thrive, for platforms to empower billions of people to express themselves online, and for the United States to become a global leader in innovation. The principles of Section 230 are as relevant today as they were in 1996, but the Internet has changed dramatically. I believe that Section 230 would benefit from thoughtful changes to make it work better for people, but identifying a way forward is challenging given the chorus of people arguing—sometimes for contradictory reasons—that the law is doing more harm than good.

Although they may have very different reasons for wanting reform, people of all political persuasions want to know that companies are taking responsibility for combatting unlawful content and activity on their platforms. And they want to know that when platforms remove harmful content, they are doing so fairly and transparently.

We believe Congress should consider making platforms’ intermediary liability protection for certain types of unlawful content conditional on companies’ ability to meet best practices to combat the spread of this content. Instead of being granted immunity, platforms should be required to demonstrate that they have systems in place for identifying unlawful content and removing it. Platforms should not be held liable if a particular piece of content evades its detection—that would be impractical for platforms with billions of posts per day—but they should be required to have adequate systems in place to address unlawful content.

Definitions of an adequate system could be proportionate to platform size and set by a third-party. That body should work to ensure that the practices are fair and clear for companies to understand and implement, and that best practices don’t include unrelated issues like encryption or privacy changes that deserve a full debate in their own right.

In addition to concerns about unlawful content, Congress should act to bring more transparency, accountability, and oversight to the processes by which companies make and enforce their rules about content that is harmful but legal. While this approach would not provide a clear answer to where to draw the line on difficult questions of harmful content, it would improve trust in and accountability of the systems and address concerns about the opacity of process and decision-making within companies.

As reform ideas go, this is certainly less ridiculous and braindead than nearly every bill introduced so far. It attempts to deal with the largest concerns that most people have -- what happens when illegal, or even "lawful but awful," activity is happening on websites and those websites have "no incentive" to do anything about it (or, worse, incentive to leave it up). It also responds to some of the concerns about a lack of transparency. Finally, to some extent it makes a nod at the idea that the largest companies can handle some of this burden, while other companies cannot -- and it makes it clear that it does not support anything that would weaken encryption.

But that doesn't mean it's a good idea. In some ways, this is the flip side of the discussion that Mark Zuckerberg had many years ago regarding how "open" Facebook should be regarding third party apps built on the back of Facebook's social graph. In a now infamous email, Mark told someone that one particular plan "may be good for the world, but it's not good for us." I'd argue that this 230 reform plan that Zuckerberg lays out "may be good for Facebook, but not good for the world."

But it involves some thought, nuance, and predictions of how this plays out to understand why.

First, let's go back to the simple question of what problem are we actually trying to solve for. Based on the framing of the panel -- and of Zuckerberg's testimony -- it certainly sounds like there's a huge problem of companies not having any incentive to clean up the garbage on the internet. We've certainly heard many people claim that, but it's just not true. It's only true if you think that the only incentives in the world are the laws of the land you're in. But that's not true and has never been true. Websites do a ton of moderation/trust & safety work not because of what legal structure is in place but because (1) it's good for business, and (2) very few people want to be enabling cesspools of hate and garbage.

If you don't clean up garbage on your website, your users get mad and go away. Or, in other cases, your advertisers go away. There are plenty of market incentives to make companies take charge. And of course, not every website is great at it, but that's always been a market opportunity -- and lots of new sites and services pop up to create "friendlier" places on the internet in an attempt to deal with those kinds of failures. And, indeed, lots of companies have to keep changing and iterating in their moderation practices to deal with the fact that the world keeps changing.

Indeed, if you read through the rest of Zuckerberg's testimony, it's one example after another of things that the company has already done to clean up messes on the platform. And each one describes putting huge resources in terms of money, technology, and people to combat some form of disinformation or other problematic content. Four separate times, Zuckerberg describes programs that Facebook has created to deal with those kinds of things as "industry-leading." But those programs are incredibly costly. He talks about how Facebook now has 35,000 people working in "safety and security," which is more than triple the 10,000 people in that role five years ago.

So, these proposals to create a "best practices" framework, judged by some third party, in which you only get to keep your 230 protections if you meet those best practices, won't change anything for Facebook. Facebook will argue that its practices are the best practices. That's effectively what Zuckerberg is saying in this testimony. But that will harm everyone else who can't match that. Most companies aren't going to be able to do this, for example:

Four years ago, we developed automated techniques to detect content related to terrorist organizations such as ISIS, al Qaeda, and their affiliates. We’ve since expanded these techniques to detect and remove content related to other terrorist and hate groups. We are now able to detect and review text embedded in images and videos, and we’ve built media-matching technology to find content that’s identical or near-identical to photos, videos, text, and audio that we’ve already removed. Our work on hate groups focused initially on those that posed the greatest threat of violence at the time; we’ve now expanded this to detect more groups tied to different hate-based and violent extremist ideologies. In addition to building new tools, we’ve also adapted strategies from our counterterrorism work, such as leveraging off-platform signals to identify dangerous content on Facebook and implementing procedures to audit the accuracy of our AI’s decisions over time.

And, yes, he talks about making those rules "proportionate to platform size" but there's a whole lot of trickiness in making that work in practice. Size of what, exactly? Userbase? Revenue? How do you determine and where do you set the limits? As we wrote recently in describing our "test suite" of internet companies for any new internet regulation, there are so many different types of companies, dealing with so many different markets, that it wouldn't make any sense to apply a single set of rules or best practices across each one. Because each one is very, very different. How do you apply similar "best practices" on a site like Wikipedia -- where all the users themselves do the moderation -- to a site like Notion, in which people are setting up their own database/project management setups, some of which may be shared with others. Or how do you set up the same best practices that will work in fan fiction communities that will also apply to something like Cameo?

And, even the "size" part can be problematic. In practice, it creates so many wacky incentives. The classic example of this is in France, where stringent labor laws kick in only for companies at 50 employees. So, in practice, there are a huge number of French companies that have 49 employees. If you create thresholds, you get weird incentives. Companies will seek to limit their own growth in unnatural ways just to avoid the burden, or if they're going to face the burden, they may make a bunch of awkward decisions in figuring out how to "comply."

And the end result is just going to be a lot of awkwardness and silly, wasteful lawsuits for companies arguing that they somehow fail to meet "best practices." At worst, you end up with an incredible level of homogenization. Platforms will feel the need to simply adopt identical content moderation policies to ones who have already been adjudicated. It may create market opportunities for extractive third party "compliance" companies who promise to run your content moderation practices in the identical way to Facebook, since those will be deemed "industry-leading" of course.

The politics of this obviously make sense for Facebook. It's not difficult to understand how Zuckerberg gets to this point. Congress is putting tremendous pressure on him and continually attacking the company's perceived (and certainly, sometimes real) failings. So, for him, the framing is clear: set up some rules to deal with the fake problem that so many insist is real, of there being "no incentive" for companies to do anything to deal with disinformation and other garbage, knowing full well that (1) Facebook's own practices will likely define "best practices" or (2) that Facebook will have enough political clout to make sure that any third party body that determines these "best practices" is thoroughly captured so as to make sure that Facebook skates by. But all those other platforms? Good luck. It will create a huge mess as everyone tries to sort out what "tier" they're in, and what they have to do to avoid legal liability -- when they're all already trying all sorts of different approaches to deal with disinformation online.

Indeed, one final problem with this "solution" is that you don't deal with disinformation by homogenization. Disinformation and disinformation practices continually evolve and change over time. The amazing and wonderful thing that we're seeing in the space right now is that tons of companies are trying very different approaches to dealing with it, and learning from those different approaches. That experimentation and variety is how everyone learns and adapts and gets to better results in the long run, rather than saying that a single "best practices" setup will work. Indeed, zeroing in on a single best practices approach, if anything, could make disinformation worse by helping those with bad intent figure out how to best game the system. The bad actors can adapt, while this approach could tie the hands of those trying to fight back.

Indeed, that alone is the very brilliance of Section 230's own structure. It recognizes that the combination of market forces (users and advertisers getting upset about garbage on the websites) and the ability to experiment with a wide variety of approaches, is how best to fight back against the garbage. By letting each website figure out what works best for their own community.

As I started writing this piece, Sundar Pichai's testimony for tomorrow was also released. And it makes this key point about how 230, as is, is how to best deal with misinformation and extremism online. In many ways, Pichai's testimony is similar to Zuckerberg's. It details all these different (often expensive and resource intensive) steps Google has taken to fight disinformation. But when it gets to the part about 230, Pichai's stance is the polar opposite of Zuckerberg's. Pichai notes that they were able to do all of these things because of 230, and changing that would put many of these efforts at risk:

These are just some of the tangible steps we’ve taken to support high quality journalism and protect our users online, while preserving people’s right to express themselves freely. Our ability to provide access to a wide range of information and viewpoints, while also being able to remove harmful content like misinformation, is made possible because of legal frameworks like Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 is foundational to the open web: it allows platforms and websites, big and small, across the entire internet, to responsibly manage content to keep users safe and promote access to information and free expression. Without Section 230, platforms would either over-filter content or not be able to filter content at all. In the fight against misinformation, Section 230 allows companies to take decisive action on harmful misinformation and keep up with bad actors who work hard to circumvent their policies.

Thanks to Section 230, consumers and businesses of all kinds benefit from unprecedented access to information and a vibrant digital economy. Today, more people have the opportunity to create content, start a business online, and have a voice than ever before. At the same time, it is clear that there is so much more work to be done to address harmful content and behavior, both online and offline.

Regulation has an important role to play in ensuring that we protect what is great about the open web, while addressing harm and improving accountability. We are, however, concerned that many recent proposals to change Section 230—including calls to repeal it altogether—would not serve that objective well. In fact, they would have unintended consequences—harming both free expression and the ability of platforms to take responsible action to protect users in the face of constantly evolving challenges.

We might better achieve our shared objectives by focusing on ensuring transparent, fair, and effective processes for addressing harmful content and behavior. Solutions might include developing content policies that are clear and accessible, notifying people when their content is removed and giving them ways to appeal content decisions, and sharing how systems designed for addressing harmful content are working over time. With this in mind, we are committed not only to doing our part on our services, but also to improving transparency across our industry.

That's standing up for the law that helped enable the open internet, not tossing it under the bus because it's politically convenient. It won't make politicians happy. But it's the right thing to say -- because it's true.

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Filed Under: adaptability, best practices, content moderation, mark zuckerberg, section 230, sundar pichai, transparency
Companies: facebook, google


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  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 12:06pm

    Cue Brainy Smurf…

    He's about to show up with some stupid pun of a name calling you "Maz" and saying this website is shilling for Google and won't ever say anything bad about it ever despite the evidence to the contrary…

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 12:22pm

    Facebook and section 230

    So, Facebook thinks they can keep on running without section 230... well, let's see them go ahead and accept liability for user posts starting now... ... I'm sure they can figure out a way to shift liability from the user to themselves with some legalese... and if they can do that for a few years, then let's chat about section 230 reform...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 8:26am

      Re: Facebook and section 230

      I'm all for 230 protections for internet "services" that dont mine your data and sell it. For the others, less so.

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

  • icon
    Jojo (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 12:24pm

    This is so stupid and naive

    Congress: “These companies are too large and need to be checked.”

    Also Congress: “Let’s hear their ideas of how things should be run.”

    But in all seriousness, Congress cannot be this naive. What Zuckerberg is proposing basically ensures that the status quo on the internet is solidified. He knows that this method is so expensive that it keeps out any potential rival. That’s like asking Richard Liebolewiz to form a proposal for fair copyright reform or a convicted serial killer asked to reform prisons. Take these ideas and concepts with a grain of salt. If Congress follows through on Zuckerburg’s idea, Google, Facebook and Twitter could become what’s left of the open internet.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 12:28pm

    Matt, why do I get the feeling this is all meant to force more folks into the Facebook pipeline? Like think of it this way, the supposed reforms Mark Zuckerberg proposes means your small self-hosted content providers (hobby forums, blogs, etc) would have to either hire an organization like Facebook to police their content or move to those platforms wholesale or worse: give up hosting their own content altogether. It smacks of the further acceleration of the walled garden trend that Facebook and Google enjoy. Frankly, if it comes down to that I'll just personally host my content on my home server whether or not my ISP approves of it. In this case, it's just my crappy MUD projects but still it's mine and I'm sure some granny who loves hosting her own knitting forum and blog would feel the same.

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:42pm

      Re: Who's "Matt"?

      Frankly, if it comes down to that I'll just personally host my content on my home server whether or not my ISP approves of it.

      Yeah, but GOOGLE doesn't have to index it if doesn't meet their ideological test (by AI), so you have zero chance of it ever being noticed. Even any links to it that you manually make can be automatically suppressed. -- That last may not happen for your little projects, but can if putting out "dangerous" ideas or "hate speech" , all as defined by unaccountable mega-corporations.

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

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 4:43pm

        For what reason should Google be forced to index content its operators don’t want indexed on Google?

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

      • icon
        bhull242 (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 4:10pm

        Re: Re: Who's "Matt"?

        Even any links to it that you manually make can be automatically suppressed.

        I’m not sure what power Google could possibly have (legal or practical) to “suppress” links from one third-party site to another third-party site.

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

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 11:19pm

          Re: Re: Re: Who's "Matt"?

          The same power he claimed Twitter had when deciding not to allow the NY Post to use their platform to amplify a fake story intended to affect the election.

          i.e.: none, but that doesn't stop these people making wild claims in order to enact their communist plot to remove private property rights.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:44pm

      Re: Oh, and your ISP doesn't have to allow that, either.

      You seem to rely on the "common carrier" notion, but you didn't read the EULA besides that as practical fact, individual you has zero way to force an ISP to provide you access.

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

    • icon
      migi (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 2:32pm

      Re:

      I was about to post something similar, I think the end goal is for Facebook to start selling automated comment moderation as a service, probably via some sort of wordpress like plug in.
      By increasing the liability for sites without automated moderation they practically force sites to buy automated moderation, which Facebook conveniently starts selling, so the law generates them a huge locked-in market.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 12:30pm

    It also sounds like how the EU copyright directive was supportes by web filter makers.

    I'm sure Facebook would LOVE to be able to sell facebook-strength filtering services to its smaller competitors that are now requiredto have it.

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  • identicon
    cpt kangarooski, 24 Mar 2021 @ 12:42pm

    It's also a nice back door to notice and staydown.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:06pm

    innocuous leader -- M's pieces usually seemed locked down

    as if individually okayed, because Maz can't stand dissent

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

    • icon
      Code Monkey (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 2:26pm

      Re: innocuous leader -- M's pieces usually seemed locked down

      I disagree, I think he just can't stand assholes like you

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

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 3:53pm

      Re: innocuous leader -- M's pieces usually seemed locked down

      Yet I can read your comment. Funny that.

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

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 4:15pm

      Re: innocuous leader -- M's pieces usually seemed locked down

      I have no idea where you’re getting that from. Most of my comments appear immediately, and even the ones that do get held for moderation (which then do have to be individually okayed) usually don’t stay there for long. Also, if your accusations were true, why would he let this one through?

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

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 11:27pm

        Re: Re: innocuous leader -- M's pieces usually seemed locked dow

        That would be because you're a normal sane person and your reaction to a held post is to shrug your shoulders and go "ok, I'll check back later when it's visible and I get a reply", and not "damn you! I'll now make another 15 posts whining about it and try using Tor to bypass the spam filter!".

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  • identicon
    try a different screen name too, 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:11pm

    Manic sets up perfect as enemy of the merely good...

    it's literally impossible to have a perfectly moderated platform at the scale of humankind.

    ... in order to argue for doing nothing, thereby allowing the current giants to continue gaining power. -- M always trots out the "baby -- bath water" line for same purpose. Everyone else wants reform.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:14pm

    Ya worry too much.

    And the end result is just going to be a lot of awkwardness and silly, wasteful lawsuits for companies arguing that they somehow fail to meet "best practices."

    SO? Lawsuits are how our civilization sorts out commonly accepted principles for FAIRNESS.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:27pm

    YOU WISH THE DISSENTERS TO GO AWAY!

    If you don't clean up garbage on your website, your users get mad and go away.

    You DO doublethink if can't grasp that applies here. Maybe you just don't admit that I gave you good advice and now clearly proven right: all the reasonable LEFT Techdirt.

    That's WHY you allow the "garbage" from your fanboys, and other tactics like the apparent lockdown I'm at present finding.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:29pm

      Re: YOU WISH THE DISSENTERS TO GO AWAY!

      Yeah that certainly describes reality lol.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 2:19pm

      Re: YOU WISH THE DISSENTERS TO GO AWAY!

      You DO doublethink if can't grasp that applies here.

      In that case why have you stayed around for so may years?

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

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 4:16pm

      Re: YOU WISH THE DISSENTERS TO GO AWAY!

      I don’t think you know what “doublethink” actually means, because even if what you said was true, that wouldn’t involve doublethink.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:29pm

    OOOH, scary...

    And the end result is just going to be a lot of awkwardness and silly, wasteful lawsuits for companies arguing that they somehow fail to meet "best practices."

    SO? Lawsuits are how our civilization sorts out commonly accepted principles for FAIRNESS.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:30pm

    SO do nothing that disturb your favorite corps?

    Manic sets up perfect as enemy of the merely good...

    it's literally impossible to have a perfectly moderated platform at the scale of humankind.

    ... in order to argue for doing nothing, thereby allowing the current giants to continue gaining power. -- Maz always trots out the "baby -- bath water" line for same purpose. Everyone else wants reform.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 4:11pm

      Any reform to 230 will entrench the major players in social media (“Big Tech”) and leave smaller players — including Gab and Parler — to die by 1,000 cuts (i.e., tons of frivolous lawsuits). Is that what you want, Brainy?

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 4:41pm

        Re:

        It's more than a little entertaining seeing someone who professes such hate for 'Big Tech' dancing to their tunes and playing right into their hands, and arguing in favor of actions that far from being problems for those companies would be the greatest gift possible to them by killing off any competition both now and in the future that might have otherwise forced them to change for the better.

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

        • identicon
          Rocky, 24 Mar 2021 @ 5:49pm

          Re: Re:

          It doesn't matter what the argument is even if it directly contradicts what he argued 5 minutes ago, since his whole raison d'être is to take dishonest cheap-shots at TD for an imaginary slight 10 years ago.

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

          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 9:33am

            Re: Re: Re:

            "...since his whole raison d'être is to take dishonest cheap-shots at TD for an imaginary slight 10 years ago."

            Oh, let's be fair. Someone implying he's a particularly toxic brand of stupid motherfucker is certainly a "slight" in old Baghdad Bob's eyes.

            The rest of us looking at his usual drivel may think it's a compliment relative to the quality of what he usually posts around here, but he himself was obviously cruelly harmed and crippled by the implication.

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

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 4:26pm

      Re: SO do nothing that disturb your favorite corps?

      ... in order to argue for doing nothing, thereby allowing the current giants to continue gaining power. -- Maz

      When did Mike Masnick argue that Facebook, Twitter, Google, et al. should "do nothing" because moderating well at their scale is impossible? Your quote doesn't say that, so try again.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:31pm

    But not if they allow "conservatives"!

    The amazing and wonderful thing that we're seeing in the space right now is that tons of companies are trying very different approaches to dealing with it, and learning from those different approaches.

    Oh, really? Yet you take shots at Parler and Gab, jeer that they too find the same problems. -- Above you've found the word "homogenization" to wedge in, but it's silly railing because people are the same in general ways, same problems will arise, and so same solutions will mostly work.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 4:27pm

      The potshots at Gab and Parler occur because those two sites made it a point of acting like they were bastions of “uncensored free speech”. Then they found out they would still need to moderate some content for the sake of avoiding legal headaches (civil and possibly criminal) and keeping users around. At that point, they stopped being about “uncensored free speech” and started being about “keeping the ship afloat so we can maybe take on new passengers”.

      Also: Yes, certain generalized solutions for moderation will work across the board because they apply to specific situations that look the same on every platform. But on Gab and Parler, those solutions have to factor in another element: a userbase that doesn’t want many of those solutions applied to them, per the “uncensored free speech” promises of Gab and Parler.

      Were Gab or Parler to ever suspend or ban because of what we would colloquially call “hate speech” — someone using the n-word, for example — the userbase would revolt over a fellow user being “censored” for using what is 100% legally protected speech. In that instance, Gab/Parler would have to decide whether upholding the suspension or ban is worth the trouble that could be avoided by lifting it and apologizing for the “censorship”.

      But to even be able to do any of that without risking a lawsuit of some kind, both Gab and Parler need 47 U.S.C. § 230 to remain intact. Without it, both services would be open to far more legal liability than they are right now — especially in the criminal cases involving the Capitol insurrection. So which one do you want, Brainy: a world where Gab and Parler can legally moderate however they wish, or a world where Gab and Parler almost have to overmoderate because they can’t afford to fend off lawsuits with the same general ease as “Big Tech”?

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

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 11:50pm

        Re:

        "The potshots at Gab and Parler occur because those two sites made it a point of acting like they were bastions of “uncensored free speech”. Then they found out they would still need to moderate some content for the sake of avoiding legal headaches (civil and possibly criminal) and keeping users around"

        Not really. They marketed themselves as "free speech", but targeting the type of right-wing moron who thinks that someone arguing back to them is a violation of free speech. They then moderated based of political viewpoint, because those snowflakes need their safe spaces. Post-insurrection they might be changing their policies, but before that they were censoring based on political viewpoint and letting the more objectionable and dangerous speech flow freely.

        But, it is true that should they not have section 230 protections, they will be bigger targets than Facebook - because their audience is more likely to post objectionable content. At least Facebook still has hundreds of millions of users who don't get involved in political speech at all. Parler's main draw is political speech, nobody's going on there to share pet and baby pictures with family they can't see during the pandemic.

        As I've often said - I wish this fool could get a taste of what he's asking for, because it's not what he thinks he's asking for.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:31pm

    'A very fine point about the negatives of doors Mr. Fox...'

    Congress: Facebook and Google have too much power and use their consititional rights in ways we don't like!

    Also Congress: Facebook and Google, what can be done to ensure that you not only keep your power but cement it such that there will never be a viable alternative to you?

    Having Facebook involved in not only trying to gut 230 but also provide guidence on how to do it is rather like having the fox leading the discussion on whether or not chicken coops need to exist, and if they do how they should be built. The 'conflict of interest' here should be glaringly obvious to anyone to see such that I can only assume that the grandstanding idiots in congress are either blinded by their hatred of tech or are working with them to kill off competition even as they pretend to rake them over the coals.

    Either way they're dancing to the tune of the very same companies they are supposedly trying to 'reign in', and it sure would be nice if more people called them out on that.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:32pm

    That last paragraph of Zuck's statement quoted here should end with, "And this all should apply to Congress as well." Because they should certainly have to display what really drives them, their performance art, and their legislative attempts.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:35pm

    WHEW! Worst ever blocking, then suddenly none.

    Has to be admin action, getting tired of me filling up the queue of supposedly "Moderated" that "staff" will look at.

    For a site that claims to do no moderation, I sure see that lie often.

    But, there it is, kids, what I wanted to say, a bit splattered, which is fine with me. Maz runs the site, complain to him.

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

    • icon
      Code Monkey (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 2:23pm

      Re: WHEW! Worst ever blocking, then suddenly none.

      No one is complaining to Mr. Masnick about his decision to block YOU :P

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 5:40pm

      Re:

      Even when an article complains about Facebook, which you hate, you still scream and moan like your balls got stuck in a vice.

      The lesson here is that there's no pleasing you, even after you're allowed to stick it in without lube.

      Have a DMCA vote.

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

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 4:22pm

      Re: WHEW! Worst ever blocking, then suddenly none.

      It’s funny how you say these things as if they make Techdirt look bad rather than make you look dumb or like a fragile snowflake.

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

  • identicon
    Josh Tyler, 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:45pm

    Use the USMCA to stop changes in section 230

    There is an investor dispute clause in section 230. Why do we not use those to stop changes to section 230?

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 1:47pm

      Re: Use the USMCA to stop changes in section 230

      Because the big companies that could fund a lawsuit like that stand to benefit greatly by 230 being gutted?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 5:01pm

        Re: Re: Use the USMCA to stop changes in section 230

        It likely most of them would not benefit greatly from a repeal.

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

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 5:14pm

          Usually you have to pay good bribe money for that outcome

          Oh it would hurt them some but they've got the resources to deal with the resulting lawsuits and increased moderation costs whereas their competitors current and future would not and would therefore go under either immediately or in time as the bills add up, and a field where there not only aren't competitors but it's effectively not possible for any to spring up is something companies usually have to spend a good chunk of money bribing politicians to get rather than have handed to them by idiots.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2021 @ 10:36am

      Re: Use the USMCA to stop changes in section 230

      IANAL, but I suspect the change has to actually be made before the lawsuits can go through (showing actual harm).

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

  • identicon
    David Powell, 24 Mar 2021 @ 2:16pm

    So if we lose section 230, could we not then put are website...

    In another country so we can avoid the new section 230. What I am hearing from everyone that if section 230 is gone, it’s over. We cannot put are web pages overseas to avoid the problems with the new section 230. I heard people suggest internet blackouts like with SOPA AND PIPA, using trade deals.

    Let me ask this question:

    What happens if section 230 goes? With all the advancements we made isn’t there a loop hole small web pages can use to avoid the bad problems. Hosting a webpage in Africa let’s say instead of America or do we kiss Techdirt comment line goodbye if Section 230 by Mark Warner becomes law??

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 4:38pm

      What happens if section 230 goes?

      With the exception of the companies/services large enough to fend off the legal headaches that would come with the repeal of 230, every interactive web service would have to do one of three things for the sake of avoiding legal liability for user-generated content:

      1. Overmoderate — hold all posts back until they can be cleared as legally “okay” and delete anything already on the service that would land it in legal jeopardy

      2. Undermoderate — go 4chan and let everything but the illegal shit stay up while moderating nothing but the illegal shit

      3. Shut down — close off submissions from third parties in any and every way possible, which could mean the shutdown of the service itself

      You will find no in-between for these options. If a service becomes legally liable for third-party content, it will have to choose one of those three outcomes. Yes, that includes sites like Gab and Parler as much as it includes Techdirt.

      If you want the Internet — or the American side of it, at any rate — to continue operating as normal, contact your lawmakers at both the state and federal levels about it. Tell them to leave Section 230 alone. Tell people you know to do the same. Support any effort to show what a lack of 230 could do to the Internet (e.g., another Internet Blackout). This only ends if Congress finds out that it’s fucking around with the wrong law — and that such efforts will be both political and commercial poison.

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

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 11:52pm

        Re:

        Option 4 - the US internet becomes a separate and less relevant part of the overall internet, since the rest of the world can survive without it and we already have the protections afforded by section 230 baked into our laws without it having to be specifically spelled out. Sites like Facebook can just segregate their services and operate according to the different laws, while sites that depend on US traffic will have to completely change business models or die, while Europe and Asia become much more attractive to new startups than Silicon Valley.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 4:47pm

      Re: So if we lose section 230, could we not then put are website

      Thing is its unlikely section 230 will be repealed or changed anytime soon.

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

      • icon
        Strawb (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 1:09am

        Re: Re: So if we lose section 230, could we not then put are web

        I will bet you that people thought the same thing about net neutrality. Like was pointed out in an article the other day, one of the reform bills has bipartisan support.

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

  • icon
    Code Monkey (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 2:25pm

    Total agreement

    Over the years, I have disagreed with Mr. Masnick and his readers on a plethora of issues. However, this is the first time where I agree 100% with everything in this article.

    Even independents can change their views......Thanks, Mike

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

  • icon
    Blake C. Stacey (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 2:42pm

    This bit at the end of the Axios story linked in the post caught my eye:

    Smaller tech companies and online sites will balk at any Section 230 changes, even if considered narrow. The biggest companies have the greatest ability to respond and adapt to legislation.

    This manages to be absolutely true and yet gallingly phrased. It still puts the emphasis on "tech companies", rather than people. The mindset at work is that the Internet is a medium for commerce, not communication.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 3:51pm

    Is there a chance of these laws being passed and standing up in court considering how it’s so obvious where they are all coming from?

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 3:56pm

      Yes.

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

      • identicon
        Fawn Gilson, 24 Mar 2021 @ 4:39pm

        Re: so should we just give up

        Maybe Techdirt should remove its comment Line now. It’s seems there is no way we can stop section 230 changes even with Senator Wyden still in the US SENATE. SHOULD WE JUST QUIT AND ACCEPT IT.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2021 @ 4:48pm

        Re:

        Its unlikely they will be passed anytime soon or stand up in court if they are passed.

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

        • identicon
          Butch Kimgerton, 24 Mar 2021 @ 5:18pm

          Re: Re:I hope your right

          Just curious Anonymous coward. If you know the answer is the Congress will not pass these bills, why did you seem to ask at 3:51 pm if there was “any chance” of the section 230 bills passing before Stephen Stone answered you.

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

        • icon
          Jojo (profile), 24 Mar 2021 @ 7:08pm

          Re: Re:

          I’m going to be honest, I agree with both of you. Yes, these horrid bills have a chance of passing; however, it’s still low, mainly because so far (emphasis on so far) the bills that have been introduced haven’t gained enough steam for cosponsors. But also based on the fact that Congress is infamously slow and very few bills are given a pathway to law.

          To my estimates, It’s a 10% chance that one of these bills may pass in the coming months (if not years). But remember. it’s not a 0%.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 1:36am

    Hilarious

    According to an article on Politico, the VERY SAME PEOPLE who want such a scheme that Zukerberg is proposing are lambasting it. Even Max Blumenthal who co-sponsored the EARN IT Act.

    https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/24/facebook-proposed-internet-rules-477868

    They are lambasting it just because he said it. They're like children.

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

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 1:45am

      Re: Hilarious

      They are lambasting it just because he said it. They're like children.

      That tends to be the "grandstanding politician" variety, with some exceptions (Ron Wyden, Bernie Sanders). Some are more blatant than others.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 1:55am

      Re: Hilarious

      The whole idea of section 230 "reform" is that some people on the right consider themselves victims who shouldn't be held liable for the things they say. They've invented this idea of persecution by "big tech" (who they interchangeably refer to as "leftist", "socialist" or even "communist", proving they don't know what words means) in order to try and avoid responsibility for their own actions.

      Therefore the fix for their invented problem must come from some hero of the right wing, who will step in and slay the Big Tech demons and restore justice and light to their dark "our actions may have consequences" hellscape. It screws up the narrative when one of the "enemy" agrees with them, even though in reality Zuckerberg has been their ally for a long time.

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


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