Social Media, Top Stories

Is It Time to Regulate Social Media?

In these increasingly polarised times, Facebook, Twitter, and Google have managed to attract disdain from both sides of the political spectrum. According to the progressive Left, social media is a lawless frontier where abusive trolls poison the atmosphere, racism and sexism are rampant, and various far-Right groups propagate fake news for their own nefarious purposes. On the Right, meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter are perceived to be safe spaces for terrorist recruiters and child pornographers, policed by intolerant Silicon Valley liberals who use secret algorithms and targeted censorship to suppress conservative thought. Establishment politicians on both sides investigating Russian influence in the 2016 election recently grilled Facebook and Twitter over the issue. Suddenly, everybody seems to agree that, unless and until state power brings these companies into line, social media will pose a threat to truth, morality, and even democracy itself.

Social media has certainly helped to transform the environment in which political discourse takes place. Conversations that might once have occurred in pubs or town hall meetings are now happening online. The anonymous Twitter account and the blog have replaced the soapbox as the preferred platform for political speeches and tirades. The public square, while still notionally ‘public’ in the sense of being broadly visible, is increasingly under the jurisdiction of private corporations whose primary concern is advertising revenue, not democratic transparency. The rules by which these online spaces are policed seem to be vague and arbitrarily enforced, with moderators often accused of censoring entirely lawful content in accordance with their own biases. Facebook in particular has also been hit by privacy scandals, with large numbers of young people turning their backs on the site as a result. The calls for government intervention are not impossible to understand.

Demands for regulation are therefore appearing from all directions. The progressive Left, the establishment, and the populist Right are all now insisting that something must be done (presumably on the assumption that they, rather than their political opponents, will be the ones doing it). The proposals vary in their specifics. Some conservatives in the US, such as Fox News presenter Laura Ingraham, have suggested that Facebook and Twitter should be treated like public utilities, and regulated as a phone or gas supplier might be. Politicians in Europe, perhaps aware that they have less influence over American corporations, favour more targeted legislation that punishes platforms that fail to protect children or remove ‘hate speech’ in a timely fashion (an approach which has already been implemented in Germany). Even President Trump has started to echo the concerns about liberal bias raised by several prominent Republicans, although he has yet to propose any coherent solution beyond the usual angry tweets and some vague mutterings about antitrust action.

Of the various ways in which social media might be regulated, the openly partisan approach—in which Donald Trump barges into Silicon Valley, throws his weight around, and threatens companies with punitive legislation or antitrust action unless they start being nicer to conservatives—is probably the worst option. It might bring some satisfaction to hardcore Trump supporters who feel they have been mistreated, but such autocratic bullying is unlikely to have much lasting effect, and certainly does not establish any long-term protection for the freedom of users. It would also be a very short-sighted strategy, since Trump will not be in charge forever, and any actions he takes against the networks today may be repeated in the future by the next Democrat administration. If conservatives feel that social media is biased against them now, they will find it much worse once the naturally left-leaning companies are operating under the quasi-legal protection of a left-leaning government.

On the other hand, treating social media as a public utility is not entirely unappealing. Among certain demographics, online messaging has displaced the telephone and email as the preferred way to keep in touch with friends and family. We would not tolerate a phone company cutting off somebody’s service because of the words they used in their conversations, or because some anonymous and unaccountable mob denounced them as a Nazi. The argument that anyone who doesn’t like the behaviour of these corporations can simply use (or build) an alternative is rapidly losing its weight as the web giants proceed in lockstep to eradicate controversial content, and smaller sites that refuse to censor just get kicked off the internet altogether. Perhaps the time has come to recognise that the public square is now privately administered, and its participants need to be afforded the same First Amendment rights that protect them from censorship by the government?

A limited form of this type of regulation actually exists already. In the US, section 230 of the Communications Decency Act ensures that, in most situations, hosting providers are not responsible for unlawful speech posted by their users. Likewise, the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act offers immunity against copyright lawsuits, provided that sites comply with takedown requests from copyright holders. The Electronic Commerce Directive enforces a similar principle throughout the EU, with the additional requirement that networks must remain content-neutral in order to receive such protection (there is no such caveat in the US, despite what Ted Cruz may think). These laws don’t regulate web companies outright, but they provide a vital ‘mere conduit’ status, without which the hosting of user-generated content would be a legal minefield—imagine if Facebook executives could be dragged into court because someone, somewhere used the site to make a defamatory statement. It is therefore recognised that internet service providers are, to an extent, public utilities whose function is to transmit information without taking responsibility for its content.

Unfortunately, as vital as these legal protections are, they are already being rolled back. Section 230 has recently been weakened by FOSTA, a law which claims to protect the victims of online sex trafficking, but is drafted so broadly that several forums used by sex workers to exchange vital safety information have already been forced to shut down to avoid being prosecuted for “facilitating prostitution.” Legislators in the EU have changed direction even more dramatically with their plans to impose new copyright rules which will make platforms responsible for proactively monitoring user content for potentially infringing material. The NetzDG law in Germany, which has been criticised by everybody from Reporters Without Borders to the United Nations, gives social networks just 24 hours to remove illegal content (which, under German law, includes mere personal insults), providing a strong incentive for sites to quickly censor material rather than taking the time to evaluate its legality. With regard to online freedom, the world seems to have taken one step forward, then several steps back.

It is therefore clear that, whatever the problems with social media, we should be very cautious about asking the government to fix them. Even well-intentioned legislation may have undesirable effects. A law might be vague or excessively broad, such as FOSTA, or it may impose obligations that are impractical or even impossible to comply with, like the European demands for automated filtering of unlawful content. Conversely, legislation may be watered down with so many exemptions that it becomes almost useless, as is the case with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which claims to protect freedom of speech but explicitly allows almost every category of censorship that has ever been implemented. Even an unambiguous, ostensibly freedom-promoting law risks creating more problems than it solves. If every user on every site has an inviolable right to speak freely, does this mean that focused discussion forums are no longer allowed to remove off-topic posts or ban disruptive users? Legal regulation is a blunt instrument, which is very likely to harm smaller sites far more than it affects Facebook and Twitter.

Furthermore, there is no particular reason to suppose that lawmakers would actually wish to increase, rather than reduce, online freedom in the first place. The recent Senate hearings have largely focused on establishment concerns such as Russian bots and drug dealers, rather than the overzealous censorship or violations of privacy which are affecting everyday users. One might argue that this is unsurprising given that it is the Senate Intelligence Committee conducting the hearings, but the fact remains that few, if any, mainstream politicians are publicly demanding an unrestricted right to speak freely on social media. Laws reflect the attitudes of the time, and sadly the prevailing attitude of our present time—at least amongst those who set the legislative agenda—is that speech is already too free, too dangerous, and in need of ever greater restrictions to protect society.

As some of these examples have shown, not all regulation of technology is necessarily a disaster. Mere conduit laws provide important protections which allow sites to serve user-generated content without incurring unmanageable legal risks. In theory, it should be possible to strengthen rules like these, relieving service providers of any obligation to proactively censor content, and discouraging (but not necessarily outlawing) ideological bias by granting additional immunities to social media companies that take a content-neutral approach to moderation. The problem is persuading today’s politicians to pass such laws, instead of taking the opportunity to crack down on indecency, hate speech, Russian collusion, or whatever contentious political issues they otherwise care about. Western society is becoming increasingly hostile to freedom of expression, with many political groups disagreeing only in the details of what needs to be banned. Unless we can find some way to reverse this trend, giving the government more control over the internet is likely to result in the censorious attitudes of today becoming enshrined in law for a generation or more.

Featured Pic: Twitter HQ, San Francisco by Jesús G. Flores

 

Matthew Mott is a writer and photographer with a background in technology, based in the UK. He can be found on Twitter 

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Filed under: Social Media, Top Stories

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Matthew Mott is a writer and photographer with a background in technology, based in the UK. He can be found on Gab.ai as @InfiniteDissent

58 Comments

  1. Petros T says

    By design social media are regulated by the host. Sure, a lot of content is theoretically public, but algorithms (tuned in ways that nobody probably understands) determine which piece of information is promoted and actually shown. In my opinion this is a far more interesting question than the few situations of outright censorship because it is much more pervasive.

    Do we know whether the treatment of tweets/facebook posts is fair? Does content modify the degree of exposure (not approval, but the simple act of showing the content)? Who sees what content? To what extent can money buy exposure (remember, Facebook and Google are in advertising) and how can one screen for bias? What about fake posts, fake news, fake accounts/bots?

    This is a complex system and simple solutions are not going to work. In my opinion considerations like these must be implemented from the ground up when the system is designed.

    • Morgan says

      Newspapers have been around for a while. What kinds of regulations have made them operate properly? None. Same for TV networks. I do not expect it will be any different for social media.

      Take a moment to recall or to discover who Pulitzer was, the man, I mean, the one after whom the prestigious award is named.

  2. I don’t think this regulation will be limited to Twitter, Facebook or Google, not that it would be okay if it were limited to them.

    As appealing as it sounds this will solve no problems. They’ll crack down on news inconvenient to those in charge, one if the articles cited in the beginning of this article was from the guardian which used the mutilations at the Bataclan shooting as examples of fake news.

    Perhaps the police who said that the attackers stuffed the victims’genitals down their throats were wrong and it was like the official story concluded, that shrapnel injuries removed the victims’ genitals and it was just luck that caused their severed penlises to have landed in their mouths. And also just a coincidence that they were tied up and disemboweled.

    Already alternative infrastructure is being laid down and these companies will lose their clout. If we allow the government to control speech on the internet then the Rotherham rapes, Catholic rapes, new year’s resides in cologne, information on crime stats, controversial studies, bad economic news, politicians criminal histories, etc… All will be labeled as fake news or hate speech depending on who is in charge. It’s already that way in Britain.

    • Indeed. Everyone is free to speak, to create their own online communities, etc.
      As soon as you say they are good for speech and the others are bad, you have in fact violated the First Amendment.

      • Jack B Nimble says

        @david of Kirkland

        No, only governmental agencies or personnel can violate the 1st A. Folks in the US are free to grumble as much or as little as they want about FB.

        Should FB and Google be regulated as public utilities? That’s an interesting question that needs to be explored in greater detail.

        For example, rightwingers worry that terrorists or hostile states like NK, Cuba, Iran or Russia might attack public infrastructure in the US, like water reservoirs, road tunnels and bridges, electric grids, power plants, etc., creating widespread harm and panic. These public assets DO need protection.

        Yet when evidence emerges that hostile states like Russia are attacking the US by penetrating computerized electoral systems and spreading propaganda on FB, the result among most rightwingers is disbelief or

        (silence)

        Why?

        Link: https://www.wired.com/story/inside-facebook-mark-zuckerberg-2-years-of-hell/

        • Probably because everytime a Republican speaks about hardening the integrity of our election system we get blasted as racist? They aren’t attacking the electoral vote CASTING systems but the registration systems. If a Republican says “hey, we need to pull the data off the election registration systems to look for tampering/invalid registrations” …wait, we tried that…I forget the response, was too busy covering my ears from the shouts of “VOTER SUPPRESSION!@!!!!” Show the ID to match the registration record that may have been added/altered by a hostile state actor? “OMG TRUMP!!!” Oops, I mean “OMG>>>VOTER SUPPRESSION!!!!” Just look at the county in GA recently. OMG>>>>VOTER SUPPRESSION! The brought a consultant friend of a (R) governor candidate in and he said to close 7 polling locations due to ADA violations! Of course, it was the DOJ in 2011 who flagged the violations and entered a settlement on it in 2016 and the consultant merely looked at all records since to see which places hadn’t been fixed…but OMG! TRUMP! I mean, OMG>>>VOTER SUPPRESSION! (ignoring that it was a D and R board of electors who wanted this since the Ds won office in campaigns in 2012 specifically on the ADA violations).

          And if you think “OMG!! RUSSIANS” spending $160,000 on FB ads was a big deal, then I assume all those millions that outsiders are spending on state elections in which they are not residents is also bad? After all, Russia putting ads about the US President who’s policies affect them is exactly the same as the justification used by all the Steyrs/Bloombergs/Nixons/ for their thousands/millions of contributions into state politics where they have no business (like the GA senate election last year, or Alabama, etc).

          • Jack B Nimble says

            @Bill

            I’m glad you mentioned the ADA–in my state, absentee voting is only allowed if a voter signs an affidavit that they are [1] going to be out of town on election day and [2] going to be out of town for the entire early-voting period. Disabled voters have to line up at the polls in their wheelchairs or walkers along with everyone else, although they are sometimes allowed to go to the head of the line.

            Discriminating against disabled or older voters is just another example of politicians selecting their voters rather than the other way around. Similarly, Republicans voted in NH to disenfranchise most college students and military personnel in the state, even though the number of cases of vote fraud there is 4/743,000 votes or 0.0000054 [oh, the horror!!!]. http://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/397183-new-hampshire-governor-signs-controversial-voting-bill

            And Bill, did you even skim the Wired.com article I cited? The Russian efforts went way beyond buying ads on FB:

            ‘In early 2016, its security team noticed an uptick in Russian actors attempting to steal the credentials of journalists and public figures. Facebook reported this to the FBI. But the company says it never heard back from the government, and that was that……..

            September 2017–Facebook announces that a Russian group paid $100,000 for roughly 3,000 ads aimed at US voters.

            October 2017 –Researcher Jonathan Albright reveals that posts from six Russian propaganda accounts were shared 340 million times**………..
            .
            Early in the campaign season, Facebook was aware of familiar attacks emanating from known Russian hackers, such as the group APT28, which is believed to be affiliated with Moscow. They were hacking into accounts outside of Facebook, stealing documents, then creating fake Facebook accounts under the banner of DCLeaks, to get people to discuss what they’d stolen.’

            **I’d say the Russians got their money’s worth on that deal.

            All this back-and-forth ignores the fact that political spending is a problem only when it is hidden from public view. I personally don’t care if the Sultan of Brunei wants to spend his billions on election ads here, so long as the spending is publicized in each ad. But Republicans in Congress LOVE dark money and are working overtime to make big-money political spending even more opaque, to the point of invisibility.

  3. There’s very little incentive for social media companies to open themselves up to regulation. Their model is profitable; and by signing up, their members have tacitly agreed to have their data harvested.

    To be honest, the flaw really isn’t with the individual users but with the platforms themselves. Siva Siva Vaidhyanathan’s book “Anti-Social Media” is an excellent examination of the problems with Facebook and why there are no easy fixes: https://www.amazon.com/Antisocial-Media-Disconnects-Undermines-Democracy/dp/0190841168

  4. Jay Baldwin says

    Perhaps there’s a two state solution for FB. Create a simple user tool in settings. Users could then select residency options: 1. Free Speech FB (as provided under 1st Amendment); 2. Safe Space FB (regulate “hate speech” allow conventional PC discourse). I think we’d learn a lot from such an experiment. Game theorists might especially enjoy it.

    • Michael Overlake says

      Jay, I like this idea as theory. It could be a simple solution to a complex problem. One worry I’d have is that some court somewhere is going to say the click-through acceptance of risk and liability waiver is a contract of adhesion that was forced upon the poor dears, thus beginning a legal avalanche to pierce the provider protections. I’d bet almost no one would select the “Yes, keep me safe!” option. But they’d howl when offended, right? Perhaps I’m jaded. Still, it could work if the legal protections were strong. At first glance, it seems to elegantly sidestep the entire utility/private network question. And if it keeps gov’t hands off, good. What am I missing, though?

    • Michael Overlake says

      Then again, what US court is willing to say, “You heard a Bad Word! That’s tortious!?” As I once heard a court explain to my ex-wife, “Madam, this is the United States. You simply cannot restrain someone’s ability to freely speak to another.” Something like that, anyway. A good day.

    • Alex Russell says

      Filtering content is a VERY difficult technical problem. FB actually has hordes of actual humans reviewing contact flagged by algorithms because the algorithms don’t work very well. how do you even define what is offensive?

      I can’t image any technology company promising to shield their users from “offensive” content. This is asking for a lawsuit in the USA.

      Personally, I think the government should not be in the business of deciding what adults read and view except for very obvious extreme criminal contact like child porn, calls to violence, maybe videos of murder. As for children, that’s the parents job.

      • TarsTarkas says

        1. Negative, filtering content is a very easy technical problem. Filtering content in a fashion that unbiased is the problem. Algorithms are created by people, people have biases. And when you have to have people reviewing the work of algorithms for bias, forget about it.

        2. Technology companies ARE shielding their users from ‘offensive’ speech NOW. They can get away with it currently because they are not public utilities. The push for regulation is that they are censoring speech while at the same time piously claiming to be just a platform. Can’t have it both ways.

        3. Agreed, government has no business of censorship except in classic cases like yelling fire in a theatre. You need to be careful though regarding regulating ‘extreme criminal’ internet stuff, though, because it’s too easy for bad actors out to tarnish reputations to insert bad pics onto computers and hey presto, you’ve been accused of possessing child pornography, go straight to jail and lifelong purgatory!

      • Indeed FB does not seem to understand what might be offensive, even in cases where most people would. I have been trying to work out their stabdards based on what is stopped. My minor daughter’s account was used by multiple clickbait pages—there’s a word for this but I cannot recall— pages which purported to be her, posting truly offensive content. Her friends, her church, her family seeing very inappropriate content from this sweet girl. I and she reported and reported this to FB, every time. 99% of the time FB found that their standards were not violated.

  5. George Washington says

    The business model social media relies upon, namely the pervasive spying on users and tracking all of their data, should be illegal. Even if you don’t use Google or Facebook (I don’t), you are ultimately being tracked by them and their presence is unavoidable because more than 90% of the web is using some form of tracking feature from them.

    There is no realistic way to use the internet without being tracked by these companies, and the extent of their tracking allows them to know absolutely scary amounts of data on an individual user — The tracking they are doing would make Stalin envious. Being under constant 24/7 surveillance is not compatible with a free society, and this must be stopped.

    Ultimately I believe it will require a constitutional amendment to protect an individual right to privacy because the problem is not limited to these websites. Technology allows surveillance that would have been unthinkable 70 years ago, much less 250 years ago when our country was formed.

    Beyond that, there is an argument that social media websites should be:

    1. Compelled to disclose their search algorithms & data sets to allow independent third parties to validate that their search results are not being manipulated

    2. Compelled to allow individuals users to fully articulate search parameters. Google and social media are seen as tools that function without human interference. If I look at some type of measurement tool, I expect the data to be returned to me without lying to me or trying to influence my actions or opinions.
    Currently we know that Google & Facebook are, or have been, guilty of manipulating their userbase in order to influence their behavior in many ways. On a broad scale this is effectively mind-control, and this really should not be something that can occur silently and unavoidably. Permitting users to define parameters of their own information search, even if only via a legally-mandated and limited API is incredibly important (e.g. chronological order, alphabetical order, and other such direct queries).

    There are probably more restrictions that I would leverage against them as well, this is just a few limitations essential to liberty listed off the top of my head.

  6. Hamilton Sunshine says

    The issue comes down to ‘who watches the watchmen’ ?

    Will oversight be used to cement neutrality or used as propaganda to cement the viewpoint of whoever currently has the polticial might and influence?

  7. Farris says

    Social media regulation is somewhat of a conundrum for practicing conservatives.
    On the one hand social media platforms are somewhat like privately own bulletin boards. The company that owns the bulletin board gets to decide who gets to post and what gets posted. Therefore looking at social media regulation from this point of view, causes conservatives to want to eschew government regulation, except in cases of aiding and abetting criminal activity.
    On the other hand under the line of Interstate Commerce Clause cases prohibits one doing public business from discriminating against its patrons, in other words pick and chose its customers. If public companies are denying or limiting consumers based solely upon the view point of those consumers, there ought to be a governmental remedy.
    I recall and appreciate the days of the past where it was better understood that offensive speech (Skokie, IL Nazis or the Robert Maplethorpe art exhibit) needed to be tolerated to protect freedom of speech for all.

    • ga gamba says

      I recall and appreciate the days of the past where it was better understood that offensive speech (Skokie, IL Nazis or the Robert Maplethorpe art exhibit) needed to be tolerated to protect freedom of speech for all.

      That’s because progressives hadn’t yet achieved dominance in all the centres of cultural capital and public sense making. Taking them on head on has merit, but for effectiveness you have entice the radicals to overplay their hand and turn on centrists. If we take Antifa slogans such as “Centrists get the bullet too” at face value the inclination to act exists.

      I’m sure they’re are many on the centre-left who are displeased by the censorship they see, but the risk-reward calculation probably has most keeping mum about it. Even organisations such as the ACLU have started to buckle and are uncharacteristically quiet. Social media is the game changer because the outspoken are targeted and even those around them harassed.

      • Farris says

        @ ga gamba
        “Even organisations such as the ACLU have started to buckle and are uncharacteristically quiet.”
        The ACLU has publicly stated today it would not defend Nazis, to the dismay of some of the old timers. The Skokie, IL case use to be one of organizations biggest feathers in their cap, as it demonstrated ideals over politics.
        From the article…”According to the progressive Left, social media is a lawless frontier where abusive trolls poison the atmosphere, racism and sexism are rampant, and various far-Right groups propagate fake news for their own nefarious purposes.”
        The elephant in the room is “Hate Speech”. Apparently the public now requires protection from it, even though it has no set definition and exists in the eye of the beholder. “Hate Speech” has come to mean speech one hates to hear.
        Why man or woman kind has evolved to the point that they are no longer able to change the channel, walk away or click to another site remains a mystery. Apparently in 2018 the public requires the protection of “Big Mother”.

  8. I think you are all over thinking the issue and that current laws and regulations provide the simplest remedy:

    1. They enjoy the protections of providers without the exposure of publishers, if they provide editing then they are publishers and exposed to civil damages when appropriate.
    2. When they collude together to boot smaller voices off the internet, that currently runs afoul of laws already on the books no different than if two “competing” and dominant companies worked together to set prices which created barriers to market entry.
    3. The courts have already deemed them public spaces in their ruling against Trump blocking anti-Trump users on Twitter. That ruling, and the historical precedent already established for privately owned public spaces, also provides guidance.

    We need to stop with the pandering and “we need to create new laws” and simply have the existing laws and rules enforced. We have become so accustomed to Executive branches at all levels politicizing law enforcement that our natural reaction has become to make more laws without realizing the lawlessness is self-created and cheered on by those who are the most offended!

  9. I feel like this thing where every site has the “log in with Facebook” option and some sites REQUIRE that you log in via Facebook should also be reconsidered. I’d like to be able to give up Facebook without eventually having to give up the entire internet.

      • Quant. Forest says

        This is actually untrue. There are services that exist that do not have an option for creating accounts without Facebook. Poor decision on their part, but they exist.

  10. Make no law respecting the freedom of speech….so of course a lot of “good” people want the government to make laws about users speaking through corporations.
    You could just speak directly or elsewhere, like here. I’ve yet to find a social media system that I even care about much less cannot exist without. But it is funny see the social media login icons on the bottom for those who just can’t stand the idea of not being tracked by large corporations.

    • Quant. Forest says

      “I am comfortable being irrelevant, therefore other people should be comfortable being censored.”

  11. E. Olson says

    I have to imagine there are some venture capitalists (e.g. Peter Thiel types) and IT whiz-kids (e.g. James Damore types) out there that are tired of trying to hire non-existent victim group IT experts in order to appease the diversity is our strength crowds. I also imagine their are people working at Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. who are tired of having to watch every word they say in order to avoid being attacked or fired, or who would perhaps like to work in a city where it doesn’t cost $1.5 million for a small shack 1.5 hours of heavy traffic away from work. I would guess there are also tens of millions of Right leaning citizens that want to have a right to free speech in their social media contacts, and perhaps might even pay a few bucks per month to avoid being spied on. Instead of regulation, why not competition – social media isn’t a utility where only one limited capacity wire goes from house to house – there is no reason a free speech / Fox News oriented Facebook or Twitter competitors couldn’t be developed. After all, latecomer “fair and balanced” Fox News has blown the lefty CNNs, NBCs, etc. out of the water.

    • The “power” of the social media platforms is the user base. It is not merely creating a platform to compete but also to somehow convince the masses to join it. Just ask MySpace. While the “just make another platform” argument is in the spirit of capitalism, there are now substantial barriers to entry. Why do cable companies have a monopoly in their areas? Why power companies? Infrastructure, yes…but why wouldn’t a competitor want to come in and lay out billions flesh out competing infrastructure? Oh yeah, barrier to entry.

      In order for another platform to spawn up, truly, would require the construction of the tech (trivial) and some-how pull users to the site which would only then result in the ability to drive revenue through advertising. Meanwhile, the big company simply reduces their advertising cost so that they are offering “more eyes/$” so that the upstart isn’t competitive. There is no way to quantify true cost, so any sort of suit alleging dumping is a non-starter. We’ve already visited this topic in the area of SMS/text message pricing, and why you don’t have more cell phone startups when the telecom infrastructure is shared just like you did when the CLECs entered and fragmented up the line-line market.

      You also have the buy and bury thing from these companies who have sufficient resources to buy up potential competition and squash the tech. Ala the rich buying the rights to a story or settling a lawsuit for “nuisance value” so that it cannot be published/stay quiet. Nuisance value for a company with billions in the bank is a substantial amount of money for the start-up investors to say no to an offer.

  12. neoteny says

    Among certain demographics, online messaging has displaced the telephone and email as the preferred way to keep in touch with friends and family. We would not tolerate a phone company cutting off somebody’s service because of the words they used in their conversations, or because some anonymous and unaccountable mob denounced them as a Nazi.

    The problem is that “online messaging […] as the preferred way to keep in touch with friends and family” isn’t like using a phone, but rather like using a bullhorn: it is broadcasting one’s message which is nominally aimed at “friends and family”. If one wants any amount of privacy in the content of the message one sends, then one ought to take steps to ensure the presence of the required amount of privacy: if Anne wants to let her mother but not anyone else know that she’s pregnant, then Anne should call her mother or send her an email or a private message — but she definitely shouldn’t post it on FaceBook, even if it is posted to a private group. And if Anne posts the news of her pregnancy on her FB page accessible by the public — or even in a private group accessible by multiple parties — then she can’t complain of FB about the reactions she gets from any of the recipients to whom she sent the message. Similarly, she can’t complain about FaceBook’s reaction to the content of those public or semi-public messages. I’m fairly sure that FB never censored any of its users based on the content of truly private (i.e. person-to-person, like phone calls are) messages.

    • Actually, your comparison is flawed but does contain a good point. Relating to telecom:

      It’s more akin to you call a party line and say something offensive and as a result the phone company disconnects your service. Using FB as an example, you are not only being prohibited from using your bullhorn (calling the party line) but your connectivity even to private parties (private message from you to them, from them to you, etc) has been revoked.

      Couple that with the courts ruling that President Trump is NOT permitted to block users from his Twitter specifically because it is a public forum and as President he is Government, therefore his at is Government restricting participation in the public forum. Either it’s a public forum, so the court was correct in its ruling, or it is a PRIVATE COMPANY forum in which case the Court had no jurisdiction to make that ruling and Trump can block them for trolling just the same as Twitter can shadow ban them. Would the courts have ruled differently if President Obama blocked David Duke? What if Twitter had shadow banned David Duke because he was trolling President Obama?

      • neoteny says

        your comparison is flawed

        Analogies are never perfect (a perfect analogy isn’t an analogy), but

        more akin to you call a party line

        which “party line” in case of a publicly accessible FB post practically means “a line on which anyone can listen in”.

        Using FB as an example, you are not only being prohibited from using your bullhorn (calling the party line) but your connectivity even to private parties (private message from you to them, from them to you, etc) has been revoked.

        This is true, but FB doesn’t hold a monopoly on the transmission of private (person-to-person) messages like the phone company used to: if FB bans you, you can still phone or email. While a ban by a phone company (before the internet) which provided monopoly services (in a given area) meant a total ban on (near) real-time “messaging” services: the other option was snail-mail which wasn’t comparable to phoning regarding the time dimension.

        • Interesting points; however, your argument is also too narrow in my opinion. If FB bans you, your family/friends that communicate via FB can still reach you other ways…Ok, but if the phone company bans you they still have snail mail is your retort?

          The stipulation at the start of this discussion is that social media has reached adoption levels where a large segment of society utilizes it similar to a common carrier. I doubt anyone would say “It’s ok that cell phone carriers have banned you, you still have landlines.” What if Comcast were to ban you for some reason like you’re watching too much Southpark? Oh, you can switch to DirecTV? What if DTV and Dish also disagree with you watching too much SouthPark? You still have YouTube? (assuming you switch your internet to slow DSL since cable broadband is now out…but if DTV bans you, that’s AT&T so who knows if you have phone service).

          I think the crux of the problem isn’t FB or Twitter or Google. I think the problem is the collusion between them which is very much like you doing something getting you “banned” from T-mobile and as a result NO cell carrier will provide you service. This is really the argument of Net Neutrality; however, the folks cheering the “stop the haters” would likely be appalled at Net Neutrality being the enforcement mechanism. Sorry, just as the ISPs can’t throttle (regulate) what you access, the social media providers cannot throtte (regulate) what you access.

          • neoteny says

            if the phone company bans you they still have snail mail is your retort?

            Exactly the opposite: as I wrote, snail-mail doesn’t compare to phone calls time-wise.

            The stipulation at the start of this discussion is that social media has reached adoption levels where a large segment of society utilizes it similar to a common carrier.

            And I don’t agree with that stipulation.

            the social media providers cannot throtte (regulate) what you access

            Which is like saying that a newspaper has to print all readers’ letters sent to it, regardless of how much the contents or the style of said readers’ letters violates the newspapers’ editorial policy.

          • Quant. Forest says

            So bans of users by the phone company are okay now that there are other methods for “real-time messaging services”? This is not solid footing you’re putting yourself on.

            Arguing by analogy when it comes to the internet is an inherently weak argument. There are fundamental differences in how the binary world operates compared to the physical world that make analogies very specious. The real world is limited by various restrictions of physicality, law, and convention that don’t exist in the digital world.

            The simple issue is to ask whether the country we want to live in is one where substantial amounts of suppression of free speech occurs. This is a recipe for creating violence and civil war, regardless of *who* is doing the censorship. If corporations are themselves substantially abrogating the rights of citizens then it’s fair to step in and force them to behave in a way that is responsible and respectful of individual liberties.

            Now, I’m not entirely thrilled about that, and would view that as a stop gap measure. There are deeper reasons why these companies have flourished in the US and why they have all drifted in a certain political direction, a user-abusing business model, and so on. Until these are addressed via sensible laws governing internet business practice, we’ll continue to have this problem.

          • neoteny says

            Arguing by analogy when it comes to the internet is an inherently weak argument.

            Agreed; it is an inherently weak argument to try to make FaceBook (or Twitter or other “social” media) into a common carrier like phone companies are.

            If corporations are themselves substantially abrogating the rights of citizens then it’s fair to step in and force them to behave in a way that is responsible and respectful of individual liberties.

            Except forcing those individuals who comprise corporations to associate with other individuals violate those (corporate) individuals’ right to free (non-)association.

          • Quant. Forest says

            @neoteny:

            You seem to lack reading comprehension, since my comment specifically called out taking any action to prevent censorship as stopgap measures that should only happen in lieu of correcting some of the fundamental issues that make censorship attractive for tech companies to begin with.

            On a completely related side note, it’s unusual how you seem to be so vocally against forcing corporations respect freedom of speech, but don’t seem to be particularly aggrieved by the thousands of other ways that state & federal government steps on corporations’ freedoms. I guess in your world view we should disband all consumer protection laws, environmental protection laws, workers rights laws, and on and on. That’s not a position I think you’ll convince many people of, but good luck!

          • neoteny says

            my comment specifically called out taking any action to prevent censorship as stopgap measures that should only happen in lieu of correcting some of the fundamental issues that make censorship attractive for tech companies to begin with

            Nice word salad; I prefer plain(er) speaking, like when you said: “it’s fair to step in and force [individuals comprising corporations to involuntarily associate with people they don’t wish to associate with]”.

            you seem to be so vocally against forcing corporations respect freedom of speech, but don’t seem to be particularly aggrieved by the thousands of other ways that state & federal government steps on corporations’ freedoms

            All right: I hereby officially register my aggrievedness by the thousands of ways that state & federal government steps on corporations’ freedoms.

            disband all consumer protection laws, environmental protection laws, workers rights laws

            Indeed: I don’t see here any conflicts which can’t be handled with the application of laws protecting property, including laws against fraud and tort laws.

  13. Ray Boorman says

    The first way to bring social media under a semblance of control is to require all users to be adults, & to provide identification. Eliminating anonymous accounts would remove a lot of the SJW traffic which operates like an online lynch mob. In addition, a lot of the trash, I believe, is being posted by teenagers having a good time saying stupid stuff.

    • Eliminating anonymous accounts would make it easier for SJWs to come after people’s jobs.

      I would be able to post here if there was a likelihood my employer would find out.

      It’s a terrible idea.

    • I also have a problem with your suggestion in that you are now requiring ID for freedom of speech. We already have poll taxes for exercising the 2nd amendment rights, you want them for 1st amendment rights?

      To the “but it’s a private company” responses: requiring identification would require gov’t regulation similar to “know your customer” laws in banking, and #2 the courts have already ruled that social media platforms are public spaces when the SJW/Resisters cheered the ruling AGAINST Trump for having blocked a user.

      • Jack B Nimble says

        @Bil or is it Bill??

        The courts ruled that–since Trump uses Twitter to make announcements identical in content to official WH press releases–his tweets are subject to US laws governing official records. It is illegal to destroy/delete official records of the US govt. [this is a post-Watergate law, I believe], and persons cannot be blocked from access to official govt. records.

        Poll taxes on 2nd A rights? Good grief! State govts. routinely tax purchases of guns & ammo AND newspaper & magazine subscriptions AND cable & phone charges–is this a poll tax? What about income taxes levied on firearms and media or telecom companies?

    • Quant. Forest says

      Anonymity is an essential part of the solution. Requiring real IDs is part of the problem.

      Sites like Facebook, Google, and Twitter frequently now require real ID & phone number to create new accounts. Real IDs *enable* the problem by giving the lynch mob easy targets. Leftists feel empowered & validated when they attack and harass people, even more so when they can silence and destroy the lives of their victims.

      Look at what happened to James Damore, a very thoughtful and considerate guy who wrote a paper (at Google’s behest!) about ways to increase diversity. Here is his paper: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3914586/Googles-Ideological-Echo-Chamber.pdf

      In his paper he cited genuine science on sex differences between men and women that have strong explanatory power, as well as brainstormed real ways to encourage more women to become active in technology fields. For his troubles, he was branded a sexist misogynist and fired from Google.

      Read the paper. This is the calmest, most rational and scientifically-grounded paper you are ever likely to see in mainstream media. The persecution of this guy for speaking hatefacts was relentless, and his harassers were perfectly happy using their real names because there is never a consequence for members of the mob.

      There are thousands of men like Damore, often persecuted for nothing more than the mob’s unrelenting need for validation by destroying innocent men’s lives.

      • Jack B Nimble says

        @Quant. Forest

        As usual, kicking out the bad actors means that the rest of us have to give up a tiny bit of our online freedom. But the internet is private space, and showing your ID there is no different from showing ID when cashing a check–no constitutional rights are being infringed there, unlike when minority voters are hassled over ID issues.

        Here’s more from thestreet.com

        Facebook and Twitter Face a Reckoning on Russian Trolls and Bots by Annie Gaus

        With the November U.S. midterm elections approaching, all eyes are on Facebook (FB – Get Report) and Twitter (TWTR – Get Report) .

        Since 2016, nonstop reports of bots, trolls and Russian-bought political ads running amok on social media have forced tech companies, even Alphabet (GOOGL – Get Report) , to pull back the curtain on how they handle ads and user data — and scramble to run damage control. Last Friday, 12 Russian agents were indicted for hacking and other efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

        Here’s an update on how the tech giants’ efforts to deal with the problem have gone, and how fake accounts could still haunt Facebook, Twitter and Instagram down the road.
        Facebook’s ‘My Bad’

        “We know we were slow to pick-up foreign interference in the 2016 US elections,” Facebook’s VP of advertising Rob Goldman wrote in an April blog post.

        It took the social network several months to act on the criticisms, at least publicly. Back in November 2016, CEO Mark Zuckerberg brushed off the notion that ‘fake news’ on Facebook could possibly influence U.S. politics. By now, after endless allegations of disinformation, Russian-bought political ads, mishandling of user data and slippery third-party deals, nobody believes that anymore.

        Facebook says that it’s on the case. In April, the company said that they had removed 270 pages and accounts operated by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian-based troll farm that, according to Zuckerberg, “had set up a network of hundreds of fake accounts to spread divisive content and interfere in the US presidential election.”
        Banishing the Trolls

        In a blog post, Facebook’s chief security officer Alex Stamos said that Facebook removed IRA-bought pages and ads across Facebook and Instagram, but acknowledged that such politically-motivated groups “are always changing their tactics to hide from our security team.”

        Zuckerberg added in his April post that Facebook had removed 30,000 fake accounts based in France leading up to its 2017 presidential election, and had “deployed new AI tools that proactively detected and removed fake accounts in Macedonia” during the U.S. Senate special election in Alabama in 2017, among other efforts. When reached for comment, Facebook said they didn’t have any updates on how many fake accounts have been removed in total.

        As for Twitter, the company has periodically identified inauthentic, inactive or spam users since at least September of last year, suspending 58 million suspicious accounts in the last quarter of 2017. More recently, it locked millions of accounts determined to be suspicious, leading to sizable follower drops of many high-profile users such as Katy Perry, President Trump and even Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey.

        Both Twitter and Facebook have also rolled out tools intended to shine a light on who’s buying political ads, with Twitter creating an ‘ad transparency center’ and Facebook requiring that users who buy political ads be ‘authorized’ by verifying their identity.

      • Quant. Forest says

        @Jack B Nimble:

        Do you have anything to actually add to the discussion or are you just going to flood the comments section by posting articles wholesale from other websites?

        Nothing in that article provides an argument against anonymity, and the entire premise of it is based on trusting Google, Facebook, etc. Given that we know these companies have repeatedly lied, and lied about their lies, in shadowbanning & censoring users, and have thus far provided zero transparency on their actual rules or procedures, there’s no reason to trust them whatsoever.

        How many bots do Google & Facebook have running on their own services? How many bots do other countries use on their services? Do bots have more effect than directly manipulating search and content algorithms?

        • Jack B Nimble says

          @Quant. Forest

          I think that Fox News and Fox News Business channels repeatedly lie to their viewers, so I don’t trust them and never watch them. You think that Google, FB, etc. repeatedly lie to their users, so the solution there is obvious. And you can skip past my comments as well, since they seem to get under your skin.

  14. Social media is a global phenomenon. Any solution to its problems have to be global too.

    It’s no use Americans banging on about the First Amendment when you have Google and WordPress banning access to material that violates local laws in China or Pakistan, or, increasingly, Europe.

    The First Amendment isn’t one of Newton’s laws. It stops at your border.

    • But we don’t care, frankly. China is not a driving force behind banning of conservative speech in the US any different than Russia being able to block Google/FB from championing the cause of HRC. While the Internet spans borders, nations have already partitioned rules for their borders which the private companies have accepted as a cost of doing business. They censor in China, they adhere to EU take down laws, etc. If they don’t like the laws in China, they can have their servers blacklist source IPs from China. If China makes rules such that everybody is blacklisting, then it is up to their population to change their government’s rules.

      What we are discussing are rules in the US to govern the companies acting in the US no different than how our rules dictate what foreign cars may be sold here. You won’t come up with a Utopian/Universal rule set because some countries have 1st Amendment style protections and others are to the other extreme.

  15. oihohoih says

    I’m tired of these libertarian arguments. If you don’t want to use the government, fine, but figure out a better method otherwise, I’m going to go with what works.

    Don’t just spew cautionary tales and offer nothing in return.

    • neoteny says

      libertarian arguments […] offer nothing in return.

      But that is the exact point: offering anything in return for dropping a particular government policy is just offering a different government policy. Because libertarian arguments are premised on the need of minimizing government policies’ effects on citizens’ lives (i.e. maximizing personal liberty), offering alternative government policies would defeat the exact goal for which libertarians advocate.

  16. Quant. Forest says

    Why are comments not appearing on this article? Some wrongly flagged as spam? Is no one monitoring the spam filter?

  17. Pingback: Is It Time to Regulate Social Media? | No. Betteridge’s Law

  18. About the censoring of conservative views, wouldn’t it really be as simple as calling it ‘discrimination? Segregation? I thought these are supposed to be illegal, but in reading the 1964 Civil Rights Act on-line, it kind of IS.

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that there can be NO discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion and national origin. I believe it’s been amended to include sexual orientation as well. The law prohibits segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodation. Can the search engines and social media be considered a public accommodation?

    But there seems to be something missing from that important law. Every time I remember it (in my admittedly muddled mind,) I usually hear race, color, and ‘creed’. Yet I can’t find creed ANYWHERE in the actual letter of the law. Why?

    One’s ‘creed’ is a set of beliefs or aims which guide their actions. If your national origin or sexual orientation has a part to play in your identity, is not your ‘creed’ an equally important defining characteristic of your identity?

    If we added ‘creed’ to the text of the original Civil Rights Law, might THAT not be a simple — if only partial — remedy?

    • Jack B Nimble says

      @WJ Fisk

      Some conservatives and libertarians believe that Google, FB, etc. practice viewpoint discrimination against them. Some leftists believe that these same companies discriminate against women and older Americans. Only the latter categories are covered in Civil Rights Acts. States and the US govt. are free to prohibit viewpoint discrimination, but do we want to go down that road? Right now, for example, a PR or consultant firm run by Democrats cannot be forced by law to take Republican clients, and vice versa. If viewpoint discrimination were outlawed, would a college geology dept. be forced to give serious consideration to a flat-earther or Biblical [young-earth] creationist? Would a public library have to purchase the ALL books and magazines recommended by its patrons without picking and choosing?–etc.

      Trump has denied media reports that the WH wants to use antitrust laws to breakup Google and FB, but see here for a different view: https://www.businessinsider.com/white-house-executive-order-investigate-google-facebook-antitrust-2018-9

      And West Coast tech firms already favor the GOP in political donations**, sometimes by as much as 2:1 over Dems. Link: http://www.siliconbeat.com/2017/01/13/google-and-facebook-give-more-to-republicans-than-to-democrats-report/

      **Refers to corporate donations, not employee donations.

      Maybe the GOP shouldn’t bite the hand that is feeding it.

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