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Klobuchar's Silly Letter To Facebook Raises 1st Amendment Issues And Only Gives Ammo To Misinfo Peddlers That Facebook Is A State Actor

from the how-meta dept

Senator Amy Klobuchar really is taking to her role as the Senator most eager to set up a Ministry of Truth in the government. Klobuchar has always been terrible on tech/internet issues, but she's really taken it to a new level in the past year or so. Over the summer, she released a blatantly unconstitutional bill that literally would empower the Director of Health & Human Services to declare what counts as health misinformation and make social media websites liable for it (imagine how that would have played out under a Trump administration -- because Klobuchar apparently can't remember that far back).

Last week, she sent a ridiculous letter to Mark Zuckerberg demanding he explain Facebook Meta's handling of misinformation regarding the election. A dozen other Senators -- including many who have unfortunately long histories grandstanding against the internet -- signed on to the letter as well.

We write to express concern regarding Meta’s role in responding to the rise of online election- related misinformation and disinformation in the United States and the accompanying rise in divisive, hateful, and violent online activity that undermines confidence in the integrity of our elections. The false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen fueled a violent and deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. The misinformation and disinformation that led to insurrection as well as planning for the insurrection took place largely on online platforms, including Facebook.

Just imagine how much people would freak out if a Senator sent this kind of letter to Fox News -- whose false claims about this and many other things have, according to multiple reports, been significantly more responsible for helping such misinformation to be spread. People would, correctly, note the significant 1st Amendment concerns of legislators suggesting that the company did not "properly" handle their editorial discretion.

The letter goes on to demand answers to seven questions -- which, again, if equivalent questions had been sent to Fox News, people would rightly freak out about.

  1. Why did Facebook disable controls after the election – including algorithmic controls to help stop the spread of disinformation and controls to limit the growth of groups that spread disinformation about the election results?
  2. Why did Facebook disband its Civic Integrity Team as a standalone unit and disburse its employees to other teams? When was the decision to disband the team made and who made that decision?
  3. What department or division of Meta is currently responsible for overseeing efforts to prevent the spread of election-related misinformation, disinformation, and violent rhetoric for Meta-owned platforms? How many full-time employees does this department or division have that are dedicated to tracking and countering election-related threats, including in non-election years?
  4. Who is the senior-most Meta employee that directly oversees that department or division’s efforts?
  5. What steps is Meta taking to ensure that Facebook users cannot evade the company’s safeguards to continue promoting claims that undermine election integrity and serve to intimidate voters and election workers?
  6. How many times in the last year has Facebook proactively forwarded information concerning threats to election workers or election officials to relevant law enforcement organizations?
  7. What steps is Meta taking now to protect the integrity of future elections from the spread of misinformation and disinformation, as well as to address violent threats against election officials and workers?
I mean, imagine sending a letter to Lachlan Murdoch and asking him what Fox News is doing to "protect the integrity of future elections from the spread of misinformation and disinformation." People would be furious about such an intrusion by government into the editorial practices of an organization. So why is it okay to do it with Facebook?

Even worse, this only helps to add more fodder to the grifter-brigade of Trumpists who are constantly filing silly lawsuits claiming that government demands to clean up misinformation and disinformation online somehow makes those companies state actors (which would then deny them the ability to basically do any moderation at all). Thankfully courts have been able to reject the silliest of these lawsuits so far, but the more that Senators like Klobuchar pressure companies to moderate in the way she wants them to, the stronger argument those grifters will have.

In other words, the only likely end result is creating a much worse situation. Grandstanding may be fun for Klobuchar and other Senators like Richard Blumenthal. It may get them headlines that are useful for their next campaign, and it may get them huzzahs from ultra-partisans online, but it's so incredibly short-sighted and backwards thinking. Stop this nonsense.

If you want to deal with misinformation, come up with an actual plan to counter it, and stop looking to ignore the 1st Amendment.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, amy klobuchar, content moderation, disinformation, jawboning, mark zuckerberg, misinformation
Companies: facebook


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  • identicon
    Glenn, 29 Dec 2021 @ 9:36am

    Same answer to all 7: FU.

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

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 29 Dec 2021 @ 10:06am

    Actually, I'm going to partially disagree with Mike here.

    Klobuchar has all the right to ask questions. As any other citizen would.
    I don't think there is any first amendment issue in asking questions.
    In the case of the Congress asking questions, that can be a step into understanding a problem and possibly taking constitutional steps to fix it.

    Of course, that's assuming that Facebook has the right to reply with a big "no comment"... or anything less polite.
    Also, that's assuming she has no intention to create unconstitutional laws to solve the issue at hand. This last point has sadly been shown wrong by past attempts to "correct" misinformation.

    I'll still agree with Mike in his conclusion because we've seen past efforts to deal with misinformation: stop trampling the 1A and try to direct your efforts towards more constitutional solutions.

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

    • icon
      Strawb (profile), 29 Dec 2021 @ 11:17am

      Re:

      Klobuchar has all the right to ask questions. As any other citizen would.

      Look at the letter, though. She's not asking as a citizen; she's asking as a US senator. And, as Masnick points out, if a senator asked these same questions of a TV network, people would go nuts, for good reason.

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

      • icon
        Wyrm (profile), 29 Dec 2021 @ 1:09pm

        Doesn't matter.
        People go nuts over anything these days anyway. Even things as stupid as a tan suit.
        So a senator wants to ask questions, this is fine by me. As long as she doesn't forcefully compels answers, it's just free speech, even with an official letterhead.

        I would be more concerned if she was writing to a small company that doesn't have the backbone to give a middle finger to the congress, but Facebook / Meta is tough enough to recognize that this letter has no legal authority. There are concerns with this, I can agree with this, but in absolute I don't have a problem with someone making a simple request for information.

        If you close this avenue, then the government can no longer do anything but make wild assumptions about everything... I can't imagine this being a good thing either.

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

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Dec 2021 @ 3:08pm

          I would be more concerned if she was writing to a small company that doesn't have the backbone to give a middle finger to the congress

          For what reason doesn’t Facebook/Meta deserve the same benefit, other than “it’s big”?

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

          • icon
            Wyrm (profile), 30 Dec 2021 @ 2:14am

            Re:

            I mentioned that there are concerns about this, and I would address them if needed. However, this case doesn't raise them as much as they would in cases with smaller companies.

            As for "other than“it’s big”", not much. Just that they're big enough that a letter from a random congress member isn't enough to really stress them. If she decides to move to the next level and actually apply legal pressure, then I'd definitely have a problem.

            Also, my main problem is also mentioned in my previous message: if you don't let the Congress ask questions because it imposes undue burden on private entities, then how are they supposed to understand the current processes that they've implemented, how (in)efficient they are and how reproduceable they are.

            I'm already not impressed with their willingness to educate themselves, let's not give them an excuse to not even try.

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

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 29 Dec 2021 @ 5:10pm

          Re:

          So a senator wants to ask questions, this is fine by me. As long as she doesn't forcefully compels answers, it's just free speech, even with an official letterhead.

          It makes a world of difference who's asking and in what capacity. There's a big difference between your neighbor asking where you were last night while in casual clothes and a cop in uniform asking that question, even if they might be the same person. You yourself acknowledge that in your very next sentence when you say you'd have a problem if these questions were asked of a smaller company.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2021 @ 6:24pm

          Re:

          People go nuts over anything these days anyway.

          Regardless of the fact that in the example, the implication is that people would go nuts with good reason, your opinion needs citations for "anything" and "these days", and neither yours nor Mike's take have any bearing as to the government interference in speech angle.

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

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 30 Dec 2021 @ 1:21am

        Re: Re:

        "She's not asking as a citizen; she's asking as a US senator. And, as Masnick points out, if a senator asked these same questions of a TV network, people would go nuts, for good reason."

        It wasn't too many decades ago that a letter from a US senator might be published by any private entity and cordially, in public, responded to with a heartfelt request that said senator could stick said letter in their pipe and smoke it.

        But that was in a different time, long before GWB decided to publicly start tearing down the protections hitherto held as unviolable by the US citizenry and both in that administration and the administration before the current one members of a certain party in congress began routinely questioning the "rights" of people who dissented with Dear Leader.

        Yes, Klobuchar isn't doing anything in this letter Senators haven't, through all of american history, done. It's just that today it's pretty tonedeaf to send such correspondence in the wake of trumpist white house officials openly questioning the legality of vocal dissent.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2021 @ 1:35pm

      Way to miss the subtext

      As Strawb points out, it isn't Amy Klobuchar, private citizen, asking.

      If your mother asks you, "Have you done your homework", you don't continue playing the video game and say, "They didn't assign any", even if it is true. That way lies newly invented chores.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2021 @ 10:46am

    Bonus question:

    What steps has Klobuchar taken to address the lack of critical thinking in the country and herself?

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

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 29 Dec 2021 @ 10:49am

    Response to 7(b)

    The same way you addressed it. After all, you did put new rules in place to prevent members from posting threatening videos against other members, right? You jumped right on that, didn't you?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2021 @ 11:00am

    if she wants to set up a Ministry of Truth in the govt, she needs to go to a different country! yes, it would still be doubtful for her to achieve that, wherever she went but she aint gotta hope in hell of doing it in the glorious US of A!! there must be more corrupt politicians here than anywhere else, far more taking bribes and 'campaign contributions' and far more going through that 'revolving door' that so often pays so well once the person in question cant be used to full advantage any more!!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2021 @ 6:29pm

      Re:

      She might not have a hope in hell in doing it, but pretty much all the muppets are trying. And by trying, repeatedly, they do what they have always done, which is to shift the zone of acceptibility so far that eventually, it will be done. This time, there is almost no one even weakly suggesting it is a bad idea, let alone pushback on the core concept from an entire opposing party. (Opposition is only on critera for when the gov gets to interfere with 1A.)

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Koby (profile), 29 Dec 2021 @ 11:13am

    Not Taking Orders

    The difference between sending that letter to Fox versus sending it to Zuck is that Fox would mock Klubochar. They'd take the opportunity to tell her to pound sand. FB, on the other hand, is probably going to respond by saying something along the lines of "Yes, ma'am. Sorry, ma'am. We'll do better next time."

    Which is why social media companies rightfully should be declared a common carrier, subject to the First Amendment.

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

    • icon
      Strawb (profile), 29 Dec 2021 @ 11:23am

      Re: Not Taking Orders

      "Facebook sometimes listens to criticism levied at it by state actors, and therefore should be classified as something it clearly doesn't fulfill the requirements for."

      You really ought to keep your stupid thoughts to yourself, Koby.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2021 @ 11:44am

      Re: Not Taking Orders

      FB, on the other hand, is probably going to respond by saying something along the lines of "Yes, ma'am. Sorry, ma'am. We'll do better next time."

      Which is why social media companies rightfully should be declared a common carrier, subject to the First Amendment.

      What is this, stupid take #401?

      You can keep whining like a child all you want, but whining isn't magically going to change the reality of the world around you. Also, see my other comment in a previous post about you never being taught personal responsibility and consequences.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Dec 2021 @ 8:12pm

      Re: Not Taking Orders

      Cool story bro.*

      *I refuse to put more energy into my clap-back than you did with your "original" shit ass post.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 29 Dec 2021 @ 11:32am

    New term

    Klobbing. Definition, to Klob or get shit wrong.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Dec 2021 @ 4:29pm

    'Since you clearly forgot all about it here's a few books'

    Though I know they'd never do it it would be all sorts of hilarious if Facebook's response to all of that grandstanding was simply to publicly offer her and the other senators a refresher course on the first amendment, something they clearly are in dire need of.

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

  • icon
    quickcredit (profile), 4 Jan 2022 @ 1:27am

    Nice content

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

  • icon
    kim (profile), 7 Jan 2022 @ 7:49am

    Facebook spies us and they collab with Google I guess. Whenever i search products on Google Chrome, a moment later the ads related to that products appear on my FB feed

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


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