from the have-you-seen-who-we've-elected-lately? dept
One common theme we’ve seen for ages in the various content moderation debates are that those who think that governments should be able to determine what content stays up and what content needs to come down don’t seem to recognize who various government leaders around the world are these days. Governments have an unfortunate track record of trying to pull down content that embarrasses themselves. And yet, for reasons unknown, eBay has decided that it is going to let government regulators automatically remove listings on the auction site.
This latest move, eBay said, was designed to speed up the removal of “illegal or unsafe items” without waiting for approval from the company.
Only selected, trusted authorities will have access to the new tools. But those that do will have “the ability to take down any listings from the marketplace themselves”, the company said.
More than 50 authorities around the world are already involved in the early stages of the project, it added.
Now, admittedly, removing products for sale may be a bit different than removing content. And, there are plenty of stories about “unsafe” or counterfeit goods listed on these sites (though, in the past we’ve noted how the moral panic stories about such listings tend to be massively exaggerated). It’s also not at all clear that government agencies are going to be able to properly recognize when a product is “unsafe” or “illegal.”
In the US, for example, we’ve certainly seen Homeland Security seize products claiming they were “unsafe” when they really just seemed to be… competitive with a bigger company’s offerings.
Similarly, giving anyone outside of the company direct control to pull down other people’s content has been fraught with problems. Over and over again we’ve seen such “trusted flagger” programs fail spectacularly, even with supposedly larger organizations that should know better.
And, of course, even when it comes to things like auctions, governments may have extremely different ideas of what counts as “unsafe” or “illegal” than the platforms do. It’s ancient history in internet time, but some of us still remember that France charged Yahoo’s then CEO as a war criminal because Yahoo’s own auction site in the early 2000s had some Nazi merchandise for sale. Yes, obviously in some countries Nazi paraphernalia is illegal to sell. But do we really think governments should be able to just reach into a platform, without review, without due process, and pull down those listings?
As Stanford’s Daphne Keller notes, this seems like we’re careening at high speed down the slippery slope towards governments directly deciding what remains up and what gets taken down, with little (or no!) consideration of the users’ own interests.
Welcome to the future, where the government reaches out and takes user posts down from platforms directly. No more pretense that the platform is considering their request, exercising judgment, or trying to protect users. https://t.co/V98AprrwHf
— Daphne Keller (@daphnehk) May 12, 2021