The Internet Is Not Facebook; Regulating It As If It Were Will Fuck Things Up

from the fixed-that-for-you dept

I've mocked the NY Times for its repeated failures to understand basic facts about internet regulations such as Section 230 -- but the organization also deserves credit when it gets things (mostly) right. Last week, Farhad Manjoo wrote up a great opinion piece noting that, even if you agree that Facebook is bad, most regulatory proposals would make things much, much worse.

He focuses on the blatantly unconstitutional "Health Misinformation Act" from Senators Klobuchar and Lujan, which would appoint a government official to declare what counts as health misinformation, and then remove Section 230 protections from any website that has such content. As Manjoo rightly notes, it's as if everyone has forgotten who was President from 2017 to early 2021 and hasn't considered what he or someone like him would do with such powers:

There’s only one problem: What is health misinformation? I know of no oracular source of truth about Covid-19. Scientific consensus has shifted dramatically during the pandemic, and even now experts are divided over important issues, such as whether everyone should get a vaccine booster shot. Klobuchar and Luján’s bill elides these complications. Instead they designate an all-knowing authority: Health misinformation, the bill says, is whatever the secretary of health and human services decides is health misinformation.

I’m sorry — what? Have the senators forgotten that just last year we had a president who ridiculed face masks and peddled ultraviolet light as a miracle cure for the virus? Why would we choose to empower such a president’s cabinet appointee as the arbiter of what’s true and false during a pandemic? And not just a pandemic — since the law defines a public health emergency so broadly, I wouldn’t put it past a science-averse future secretary from attempting to declare discussions about abortion, birth control, transgender health or whatever else as “misinformation.”

As he notes, so many of the proposals out there fill him "with deep dread" and they should. They're "this is bad, we must do something, this is something" proposals with little regard to (1) whether or not they are constitutional, and (2) whether or not they'd do anything to help with whatever the "bad" thing is. And, a key point, many of them would help Facebook at a moment when Facebook is losing users to competitors:

Rather than curbing the influence of Big Tech, altering Section 230 might only further cement Facebook and other tech giants’ hold over public discourse — because the giants might be the only companies with enough resources to operate under rules in which sites can be inundated with lawsuits over what their users post. Smaller sites with fewer resources, meanwhile, would effectively be encouraged to police users’ content with a heavy hand. It is no accident that Facebook has been telling lawmakers that it welcomes reforms to Section 230 — while smaller sites like Etsy and Tripadvisor are nervous about the possibility.

What's clear (though Manjoo doesn't say it in the piece) is that so many of these regulations are really targeted at Facebook, and don't realize how much they'd impact the wider ecosystem. They're regulating the internet as if Facebook was the internet. And the end result might be that... it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If only Facebook can survive under these regulations, then Facebook becomes the internet.

There is one point in the article that I think is questionable, though. Manjoo spoke to NY Times suer (though he eventually dropped the suit) Larry Lessig, who told him:

Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Harvard Law School who has been working with Haugen, the Facebook whistle-blower, told me that some content-neutral rules for online speech might survive constitutional scrutiny — for example, a rule that set an upper limit on the number of times a Facebook post could be reshared.

And... I may not be a Harvard law professor, but that's just wrong. Limiting how often something can be shared is clearly a 1st Amendment issue, because it is the literal suppression of speech. It may be "content neutral" but that's not the only part of the strict scrutiny test used to judge whether or not something can get around the 1st Amendment. They also need to be narrowly tailored, be the least restrictive means to achieve their result and leave open ways for speech to be spread -- and I can't see how restricting how often something can be shared can possibly meet that bar.

Either way, kudos to Manjoo and the NY Times for highlighting that even if you think Facebook is awful, most regulatory proposals would probably make the internet, and Facebook, way worse.

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Filed Under: internet regulations, section 230
Companies: facebook


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  • identicon
    Pixelation, 2 Nov 2021 @ 7:07am

    "There’s only one problem: What is health misinformation? "

    It's fake news. Bad, very bad. If only Trump were still President, he could hire his interior designer to be in charge of figuring out what to do about it!

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Nov 2021 @ 7:13am

      Re:

      "...he could hire his interior designer..."

      You mean "appoint"?

      Hire implies the designer should expect fiscal remuneration at the conclusion of the work.

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

  • icon
    Keroberos (profile), 2 Nov 2021 @ 7:28am

    Meanwhile, the ghouls over at fox news continue spreading lies and no one in Congress says nothing.

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 2 Nov 2021 @ 9:04am

      Re:

      What are you talking about? Congress has been putting unconstitutional pressure on cable providers to stop carrying Fox News since February.

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

      • icon
        TaboToka (profile), 2 Nov 2021 @ 3:45pm

        Re: Re:

        Linking to a propaganda mill like The Hill isn't the way to gain credibility for your assertion, especially since the crack "reporters" therein don't bother to show the source of their ire.

        Instead, you should read the letter yourself and then ask if "Congress has been putting unconstitutional pressure to" blah, blah, blah "Fox News"? The answer is no.

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

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 2 Nov 2021 @ 4:05pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          ask if "Congress has been putting unconstitutional pressure to" blah, blah, blah "Fox News"? The answer is no.

          I think AT&T executives are better at reading between the lines than you are. For example: "Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN on U-verse, DirecTV, and AT&T TV both now and beyond any contract renewal date? If so, why? "

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2021 @ 8:07am

    and do you honestly think that anyone of the USA politicians or anyone of those involved with or part of the USA entertainment industries are going to give a flyin' fuck? all they've been after for decades is to do exactly that! anything to stop the public finding out what the fuckers are up to and anything to stop the public having access to anything to do with movies, music, games images, text or anything else that these industries think they have the absolute, God-given right to restrict access to, will be done! they have the opinion that there is absolutely nothing on the Planet that is more important than keeping their files under ridiculous terms of copyright and able to charge ridiculous amounts of money for and the pricks in government, in courts and in security services do whatever they are told to help achieve it! i suppose when the cure for all cancer is known, theses assholes will want and expect to have the copyright to that as well as what to charge people who need it to live!! cunts of the biggest order!!

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Nov 2021 @ 7:22am

      Re:

      "...i suppose when the cure for all cancer is known, theses assholes will want and expect to have the copyright to that as well as what to charge people who need it to live!! cunts of the biggest order!!"

      Is this a bad time to point out that Martin Shkreli relied on IP when he decided to hike the price of AIDS and diabetes medication to a place (5000% price hike on Daraprim) where most sufferers of either condition had the choice of getting their medicine or putting food on their table and a roof over their head?

      Epipen cost per unit in the US; >300 USD
      Epipen cost per unit in Sweden; 38 USD plus change. Similar pricing usually applies in the rest of the EU.

      Mind you, that's medical patents, not copyright. A rose by any other name, and all that...

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

  • icon
    Brent Ashley (profile), 2 Nov 2021 @ 10:31am

    less offence, more defence

    You can play whack-a-mole targeting sources of misinformation all you want, but it's not going to make a difference until you address the real problem, which is gullibility.

    The majority of the population, subjected to the same barrage of misinformation, has not been swept up in it or conned by it, or at the very least affected to a lesser extent. Maybe increased focus on providing skills and tools to help defend against inevitable levels of misinformation will better help those who have limited capacity to resist.

    It's tough because those who fall for it don't think they need help, and people who haven't fallen for it aren't motivated to help those that have. Overcoming this will require a surge in collective altruism from the user community, the press, and tech providers.

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

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 2 Nov 2021 @ 10:46am

      Re: less offence, more defence

      Like perhaps a basic public education focused on critical thinking and problem solving instead of a focus on knowledge marketable to employers that are easily tested for?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2021 @ 11:25am

        Re: Re: less offence, more defence

        Just think of all the scammers and politicians who would be looking for an honest occupation if people could think critically.

        /s

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2021 @ 12:22pm

      Re: less offence, more defence

      gullibility

      Nah, can't be that, I hear that they took gullible out of the dictionary!

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2021 @ 5:47pm

        Re: Re: less offence, more defence

        You felll for that rumour? Man, some people.

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

      • icon
        sumgai (profile), 2 Nov 2021 @ 5:47pm

        Re: Re: less offence, more defence

        I hear that they took gullible out of the dictionary!

        Not quite, but close. What they did was delete the former definition, and substitute in the words "See the definition for the word Republican".

        ** For those readers who are actually Republican, I'm sorry. But you have to admit, like cops who are "bad apples in the barrel", you are suffering the ignomy of being lumped into the same barrel - the plain evidence is there to see, for those who don't bury their heads in the sand.

        Or if you prefer, let's go down this road: "95% of all lawyers are giving the profession a bad name." Same could be said about today's Republican party.

        **
        And for those who wonder....

        Trump originally registered Democrat for 20 years, then Republican for 12 years, then Reform Party for 2 years, then Democratic for 8 years, then Independent for 2 years, then a pro-abortion liberal Republican in 2012, then a pro-life Republican from 2014 to the present. All the time before 2014 he was liberal, socialistic, pro-abortion, no matter what his party at the time. But when questioned about which party he would pick if he were to run for President, he said "Republican, because they'll believe anything".

        Such a person has no philosophical conviction. And we saw that every day for four years and some - he believes in only one thing, and that's Trumpism. Everything else is a bad-tasting figment of his imagination.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Nov 2021 @ 7:29am

      Re: less offence, more defence

      "Overcoming this will require a surge in collective altruism from the user community, the press, and tech providers."

      It's been tried. And unfortunately every attempt keeps failing because, at the end, the gullibility is in the alt-right and republican base just a means to an end with the republican base willingly falling for every conspiracy theory, no matter how outlandish or divorced from reality, as long as it gives them the excuse they need to "hate the libs".

      In the final analysis that is the issue - that 25-30% of the US citizenry hate the rest of the US citizenry with a burning, self-reinforcing passion. That hate is their drug of choice, the addiction to grievance what gets them through every day.

      Consider that the DHS issued a paper on reformed white supremacists developing actual withdrawal symptoms when trying to give up on hatred and what this implies by extension; We aren't talking about merely gullible. We're talking about actual junkies you're trying to talk into kicking their habit.

      No amount of altruism is going to help there. Those people are lost. Because you can not stage an effective intervention on 90 million people, many of whom are armed and willing to use those guns.

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

      • icon
        Brent Ashley (profile), 3 Nov 2021 @ 8:57am

        Re: Re: less offence, more defence

        Alas, I fear you are right. The Neville Chamberlain appeasement approach isn't going to draw these folks back to rationality.

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

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Nov 2021 @ 2:04am

          Re: Re: Re: less offence, more defence

          "The Neville Chamberlain appeasement approach isn't going to draw these folks back to rationality."

          I keep coming back to Chamberlain and the similarity with every US liberal who claims they need to be the "better" part of the "debate" they insist exists. If the major failing of the alt-right is their refusal to accept the evidence of their own lying eyes then the major flaw of the left must be the religious belief that there is still a debate to be had when the opposition thinks words are a sign of weakness and won't listen.

          Karl Popper's Paradox of Tolerance is something I've started mentioning in every other comment because it tells us something we've forgotten - that if you want a society founded on liberal and humanitarian values then that society must not accept in its midst those who reject these fundamental tenets of liberalism and humanitarianism.

          Because to the intolerant grievance-addicted hate junkie spitting on the other is part of his daily fix, but a liberal will usually let the junkie keep doing just that until the point where that hateful mindset has already become so normalized society has been poisoned by it.

          Those 90 million? They're already seeing themselves at war with the rest of the US. And because it's gone this far no solution short of giving it to them will really work.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2021 @ 10:32am

    So many websites will stop hosting content that discuss, s health issues or block content just to avoid expensive lawsuits . Meanwhile there's plenty of content on fox news that is simply untrue about masks the importance of vaccines etc there are famous people on twitter saying I won't get vaccinated . This is a law that'll limit free speech and make Facebook stronger as it ll reduce possible competition from startups

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2021 @ 5:54pm

      Re:

      Masks are an interesting case. Both sides of the political divide tend to be somewhat out to lunch. Republicans (well, Trumpist really, but these days amongst the rank and file there's no meaningful differenc) dismiss them outright, while by and large democrats believe in their heart of hearts that they are much more effective than they actually are.

      The truth is, if you go into a room that has been partitioned with Plexiglas panels, the plexiglas probabaly has more impact. In a negative way, because by impeding air flow they actually increase exposure when the virus has been release near you, thus increasing the chance of infection. Open windows are far more effective if you can get into their airstream, and barring that you want high air turnover. Which, unfortunately, modern high R-value buildings rarely have.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2021 @ 12:01pm

    too late

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2021 @ 1:18pm

    Limited sharing ^o^

    a rule that set an upper limit on the number of times a Facebook post could be reshared

    Yeah, that would be effective... you know, since the whole stopping "piracy" thing worked so well after making rule/laws.

    LMAO

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

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 2 Nov 2021 @ 11:56pm

    And not just a pandemic — since the law defines a public
    health emergency so broadly, I wouldn’t put it past a
    science-averse future secretary from attempting to
    declare discussions about abortion, birth control,
    transgender health or whatever else as "misinformation".

    Indeed, with the CDC declaring "gun violence" a public health crisis, they could even punish people who go against the government's official position on gun control.

    And 'climate change'. There's another hot button issue that's ripe for censorship against anyone who strays from the party line.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 3 Nov 2021 @ 1:56am

      Re:

      "There's another hot button issue that's ripe for censorship against anyone who strays from the party line."

      The "party line" is verifiable evidence, and people are tired of lies being given equal weight in a time when we're seeing the negative effects of not taking action decades ago as a direct result of the lies.

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

      • icon
        btr1701 (profile), 3 Nov 2021 @ 10:21am

        Re: Re:

        What you are and are not tired of doesn't trump the 1st Amendment.

        It doesn't say, "Congress shall make no law... unless PaulT is tired of hearing about something."

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

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 3 Nov 2021 @ 11:50am

          Re: Re: Re:

          It doesn't say, "Congress shall make no law... unless PaulT is tired of hearing about something."

          It also doesn't say "ignorant dipshits must be given equal time with qualified experts", so what is your point?

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

          • icon
            btr1701 (profile), 3 Nov 2021 @ 2:33pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Who's suggesting that? We're talking about government regulation of speech by declaration of 'misinformation' here, not equal time.

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

            • icon
              nasch (profile), 3 Nov 2021 @ 3:10pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Did you not read the comment you replied to?

              "people are tired of lies being given equal weight in a time when we're seeing the negative effects of not taking action decades ago as a direct result of the lies."

              There are two points here:

              1) Giving the government the power to decide what is true and what is false, and disallow false speech, is quite dangerous

              AND

              2) Non-government actors, such as media outlets, have no obligation to be neutral on questions of fact, and do harm by pretending baseless lies are on an equal footing with scientifically sound findings

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

              • icon
                btr1701 (profile), 3 Nov 2021 @ 3:54pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                2) Non-government actors, such as media outlets,
                have no obligation to be neutral on questions of
                fact, and do harm by pretending baseless lies
                are on an equal footing with scientifically sound
                findings

                Which is a claim neither I nor this article made. That was just PaulT trying to change the subject to something he felt more comfortable arguing against because he knows arguing for a Ministry of Truth isn't exactly a good look.

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

                • icon
                  PaulT (profile), 4 Nov 2021 @ 1:25am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Misrepresenting what I said works best if you're not doing it in the thread where everyone else can read the actual words.

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

                • icon
                  Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Nov 2021 @ 2:44am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  "That was just PaulT trying to change the subject to something he felt more comfortable arguing against because he knows arguing for a Ministry of Truth isn't exactly a good look."

                  ...which he didn't but there's nothing really new about the Alt-right and shitposting trolls grasping for strawman rhetoric when they run dry on anything resembling an actual argument.

                  So what's your next move? Claiming that PaulIT is part of the Ministry of Truth and therefore not entitled to an opinion on certain speech? Oh wait, you already did that.

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

            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 4 Nov 2021 @ 1:22am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "We're talking about government regulation of speech by declaration of 'misinformation' here, not equal time."

              Where has someone demanded that governments silence your stupid ass? We only said you shouldn't be treated as if your idiocy carries the same weight as educated people.

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

              • icon
                Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Nov 2021 @ 2:55am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                "Where has someone demanded that governments silence your stupid ass?"

                As usual with btr1701 he's reacting with outrage over an assertion which only took place in his pipe dream.

                You really shouldn't be that surprised, PaulIT. I have yet to see anyone from the alt-right even try to argue in good faith - they'll always first invent something you never said so they can try to beat you over the head with it.

                That tactic may date all the way back to Cicero but the most famous and persistent usage before the alt-right adopted it in modern terms would be Germany, 1932. Same place they got the terms "Big Lie" and "Fake News" from.

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

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 4 Nov 2021 @ 1:21am

          Re: Re: Re:

          You're free to say stupid shit, the rest of use don't have to listen.

          Nobody's saying you're not allowed to be an idiot on the subject of climate change, but you are not given an automatic seat at the adults' table if you do.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Nov 2021 @ 7:33am

      Re:

      "There's another hot button issue that's ripe for censorship against anyone who strays from the party line."

      Yes because anyone who adheres to basic science and empirical evidence blindly follows the party line.

      Seriously, it really is amusing to see the alt-right devolving into classical USSR political commissar rhetoric. There are no "two sides" here. There's only one set of facts and then there are those who claim the earth is flat and that horse dewormer and bleach injections cures covid.

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

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 3 Nov 2021 @ 8:54am

        Re: Re:

        "There are no "two sides" here"

        There's always multiple sides to any argument. Most of those arguments are expressly wrong or based on something other than fact, but there's always someone out there who will argue against even the most basic confirmed science. The problem isn't that these people exist (though life would be easier if they didn't), it's that they're given unearned equal weight and block meaningful fact-based action.

        If you're discussing NASA policy and you have an opposing voice that claims that the moon landings were faked or that the earth is flat, you don't give that guy a space on the policy board. If the subject is climate change and you have someone who thinks it's not real because he was cold on his way to work this morning, you don't let him in the room when discussing how to invest in renewable energy. Doing so in the interests of "fairness" destroys any progress, no matter how correct the other people on the board are.

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

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Nov 2021 @ 3:00am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "There's always multiple sides to any argument."

          No. Arguably by definition.

          Not to get all Monty Python about it but when you drag to the table an opinion backed by facts, circumstantial evidence, or even just your beliefs...and the other side thinks the table is part of the Great Liberal Conspiracy of Making the Frogs Gay and you opening your mouth is a challenge against all that is good and holy - then that's not an opposing opinion. It's just an assertion that the opposition doesn't want to have an argument in the first place.

          Or to put it shorter, if you use speech and the opposition shits in your face that isn't two sides in an argument. It's you inviting debate and the other side rejecting it in contempt.

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


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