from the look-at-that-briar-patch dept
Facebook policy dude/failed UK politician Nick Clegg has written an op-ed for USA Today confirming what has been obvious to everyone who understands Section 230, but (for reasons I don’t quite understand) seems obscured from basically every politician out there: >Facebook wants to destroy Section 230. And it’s practically giddy that politicians are so eager to grant it its wish, while pretending that doing so will somehow hurt Facebook.
It remains absolutely bizarre to me that many people still believe that getting rid of Section 230 (or even reforming it) is a way to “stop” or “hurt” Facebook. Section 230 is a protection for the users of the internet more than it is for the companies. By making it clear that companies are not liable for user speech, it makes more websites willing to host user speech, especially smaller ones which could easily be sued out of existence. Indeed, over the last couple of years, it’s become clear that Facebook desperately wants to kill Section 230 because it knows that it alone has enough money to handle the liability, and removing Section 230 will really only burden the startups that threaten to take users away from Facebook.
A year and a half ago, Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that he was cool with getting rid of Section 230. Earlier this year, he suggested a “reform proposal” that was effectively gutting 230 in extremely anti-competitive ways. And for months now, Facebook has blanketed DC (and elsewhere, but mostly DC) with commercials and ads that don’t say Section 230, but refer obliquely to “comprehensive internet regulations” passed in “1996.” That’s Section 230 that they’re talking about.
This is why it’s so ridiculous that the takeaway of some people to the Facebook whistleblower last week was that Section 230 needs to change. That’s exactly what Facebook wants, because it will cement Facebook’s dominant position and make it that much more difficult for competitors to emerge or succeed.
Here’s what Clegg had to say:
Much has been said about Facebook recently, but there?s one thing we agree on: Congress should pass new internet regulations.
We?ve been advocating for new rules for several years. For too long, many important issues have been left to private companies to decide.
Please regulate us! Facebook has stocked up on former politicians (like Clegg) and political operatives (like Joel Klein). It’s not at all worried about a new regulatory regime. It knows that it will run any new regulatory regime. Facebook is not scared of the government. What Facebook is so obviously afraid of is new competitors drawing away its user base. When looked through this lens, Facebook would love regulations. It knows it can control the process, while it would burden all the up and coming startups that are stripping away Facebook’s userbase.
We?ve argued for creating a new digital regulatory agency to navigate competing trade-offs in the digital space ? much like the Federal Communications Commission oversees telecoms and media.
This is the key quote that proves that Facebook wants to do away with Section 230, though it may only be obvious to those who really know the history of Section 230. When Ron Wyden and Chris Cox wrote Section 230, it was explicitly done to prevent other politicians from creating a Federal Computer Commission to oversee internet companies. Here is what Chris Cox said during the floor debate over Section 230 as compared to alternative approaches, like that of Senator Exon (whose “Communications Decency Act” was later merged with Section 230, only to be thrown out as completely unconstitutional soon after):
Some have suggested, Mr. Chairman, that we take the Federal
Communications Commission and turn it into the Federal Computer
Commission, that we hire even more bureaucrats and more regulators who
will attempt, either civilly or criminally, to punish people by
catching them in the act of putting something into cyberspace.
Frankly, there is just too much going on on the Internet for that to
be effective. No matter how big the army of bureaucrats, it is not
going to protect my kids because I do not think the Federal Government
will get there in time. Certainly, criminal enforcement of our
obscenity laws as an adjunct is a useful way of punishing the truly
Note that there was “just too much going on on the Internet” in 1995 when this was said. Section 230 was the alternative proposal so that the FCC or any new agency would not regulate the internet. And here’s Facebook saying that we need exactly that kind of agency? It’s asking for the effective repeal of Section 230.
The rest of Clegg’s article is just “please, sir, regulate us so we know what to do,” behind a smirk that is obviously knowing how that will lock in Facebook not just as the power behind the regulator, but as the only company who can still survive in the space.
It?s long past time for Congress to set clear and fair rules. That?s how we?ll make the internet safer, while also ensuring that creativity and competition continue to thrive online.
Translation: it’s long past time for Congress to make it so that Facebook is firmly established controlling the mechanisms of internet regulations, such that the competitors who are already eating away at our base of users cannot continue to compete.
Filed Under: fcc, internet regulations, nick clegg, section 230