Thursday, October 15, 2020

Section 230 Solution: My Thoughts On Content Service Providers vs Publishers

Summary

The current state of social media reminds me of the early days of e-mail in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. E-mail was a godsend in that we could communicate with people around the world in a matter of seconds; but security and spam were out of control. It was the Wild West. Now, we have an opportunity to fix social media the same way we fixed e-mail, through laws, technology, and regulation


Background

Section 230(c)(1) provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an "interactive computer service" who publish information provided by third-party users:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

This protects social media websites since they’re not generating content like a news service. But, there’s obviously a problem since misinformation can be promulgated as truth, typically faster than fact. Also, the more content is amplified, the more authority it has, even if it’s false information.


Solution

Here’s my solution that doesn’t violate the First Amendment:

FCC Section 230 should differentiate between platforms that amplify content (e.g. retweeting on Twitter, resharing on Facebook, etc) and platforms that don’t allow amplification (e.g. Instagram, WordPress, etc). If a platform allows amplification, regardless if it’s done through manual curation or via an automated algorithm, then it’s no longer a service provider but rather a publisher.

If this degree of editing and censorship sounds like an administrative burden then take a look at the lack of child porn found through search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. There is none, but certainly not from a lack of trying. And while the CAN-SPAM Act doesn't eliminate all spam, it does a great job (certainly much better than the wireless network providers when it comes to spoofing caller ID, etc).

Just as a news service doesn’t pass along fact as fiction without liability (libel) neither should social media. This clarification to Section 230 will cut into the profitability of social media companies, but they’ve reaped the benefits (and revenue) and now it’s time to take responsibility.

This post began as a tweet, but Twitter is down.

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