Saturday, September 30, 2023

How a Democratic Section 230 reform plan could backfire

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Many of the changes proposed in the bill, known as the SAFE TECH Act, are significant. Currently, the law protects platforms such as Facebook and Twitter from most of the responsibilities for messages written by their users; the new bill removes many of those protections. Some are based on existing federal laws: for example, this immunity would not apply to online speech that violated civil rights or cyberbullying laws. The proposals also remove protection from all types of paid speech, such as advertising.

This, supporters say, is important and welcome progress.

“There is no legal mechanism that has done more to isolate intermediaries from legal liability for the distribution, amplification and delivery of illegal content and to facilitate dangerous antisocial connections,” says Olivier Sylvain, professor of right at Fordham University who says they love the bill. and in particular its potential to regulate online advertising.

When the platforms moderate racist, misogynistic or extremist content, he says, “it’s largely due to fear of bad publicity or the occasional crackdown they receive from tired advertisers.”

But many experts believe the reforms are misguided and could make the situation worse.

“What politicians and the public are wrong,” says Eric Goldman, professor of law at the University of Santa Clara, is that “the reform of section 230 will not stop at Big Tech. The reform of Article 230 will strengthen the competitive moats of incumbent operators to make competition even more difficult for newcomers.

“According to them, which services will still be eligible?

Goldman is among a large number of legal experts and industry watchers who fear the proposals will not force large companies to behave better, but instead crush small businesses under the weight of costly complaints and lawsuits. .

Critics fear that large companies are simply starting to filter out many types of legitimate speech to avoid legal action, and that the changes to advertising will potentially harm anyone who provides paid services, such as web hosting companies or vendors. messaging.

“If we don’t have clear and compelling answers to these questions, the bill will have potentially disastrous consequences for the internet we know and love.”

Eric Goldman, University of Santa Clara

“My question to the drafters is as follows: which services, according to them, will still be able to benefit from article 230 if this reform is adopted; what is the likelihood that these services will do what members of Congress want; and will these services be able to afford to stay in business? Goldman asks. “If we don’t have clear and compelling answers to these questions, the bill will have potentially disastrous consequences for the internet we know and love.”

Despite this, the proposals will be impossible to ignore as Democrats effectively control the White House and both houses of Congress. This means that it should be taken seriously even if it has flaws, says Berin Szoka, founder and chairman of thinktank TechFreedom.

“Everyone is very frustrated because there are so many stupid holds by Republicans, but this is a much better and more serious attempt to change the law,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, or that they’ve thought about what they’re doing.”

“Open the door to the loopholes”

Broadly speaking, America’s two major political parties believe that social media should be better regulated and that Section 230 is the key to achieving this. But their reasoning and their suggestions on what to do are very different.

The left believe changes in the law are needed to increase the accountability of social media platforms for the offensive, abusive or illegal content they host and promote. The right, meanwhile, is largely concerned about censorship allegations and believes private companies should be forced to adopt a position of political neutrality to protect conservative rhetoric. This difference is one of the reasons the two sides seem to exist in almost entirely different worlds. when tech CEOs were brought in to testify in the Senate last year.

The problem of online abuse and disinformation has become impossible to ignore over the past year, with Harmful online conspiracy theories fueling the pandemicand political lies threatening the election. This culminated in January, when the violent assault on the United States Capitol was drawn to online groups and to Trump himself.


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