One of the most intriguing facets of The Racket News is our informed readers. You are not bots or kneejerk reactionaries. I love that, and it’s why David, Jay and I do this thing.
Some of the comments from my post from yesterday about social media and building collapses made me want to explore this topic further. So in a display of laziness akin to a television sitcom punting to a “flashback” episode, I am going to punt to you.
Tell us, and each other why or why not truth is necessary, or vital, in social media. Should Section 230 live on? Should there be gatekeepers of “fake news” and misleading statements (especially on COVID related drugs)? Discuss among yourselves and, of course, be civil.
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YES! A "clip episode" post!
On Section 230, since it's so short and simple, it's worth quoting so we all have a high degree of confidence that everyone knows what they're either for or against modifying or repealing:
(c) Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material
(1) Treatment of publisher or speaker: 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.
(2) Civil liability: No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—
(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or
(B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).
Section 230 does two things:
First of all, it makes this conversation possible in the first place, since absent the first protection, The Racket News would be liable for these words that I type and I doubt that the Racket Crew has the funds or patience to engage a full-time lawyer to approve or reject any comment posted on this site. I am responsible for what I post here, not the Racket Crew. If you repeal Section 230, one thing happens: user and audience comments (and other user-generated content) goes away. Either it's nixed right away due to the potential hassle, or it gets nixed down the road after an enterprising ambulance chasing lawyer serves a nuisance lawsuit to The Racket based on something one of its audience posted.
The second thing that Section 230 does is allow Steve, David, Jay, et al, to remove any content that violates the terms or spirit of the community WITHOUT making them liable for removing all comments under whatever standard they choose to enforce. Absent this protection, The Racket either has to be completely on its game when it comes to moderation (to avoid any discrimination complaints) or eschew moderation altogether, most likely leading to this comment section becoming a cesspool once the -chan trolls discover fresh territory to spoil.
So, Section 230 is fine - leave it alone.
Given that, what do you do about overly-powerful companies that command a dominant market-share in online conversation and employ the protections of Section 230 to shape it as they wish? The answer lies in property rights.
Large social media sites are exercising their private property rights to craft a site and community to their liking, either culturally (deciding to ban particular kinds of content) or financially (employing bots and exploiting low-paid overseas worker to filter the crap out of your feed). Unless you were a supporter of the Fairness Doctrine prior to the Reagan administration AND want the gov't to take a hand in policing conversations in private spaces, you should want to leave oversight of the operations of Facebook, Twitter, etc. OUTSIDE the realm of gov't power.
Here's what to do instead - lobby for YOUR OWN personal property rights as it pertains to your data. Europe has already provided a template for this with the rights enacted by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). EU citizens, under the GDPR, enjoy the rights to:
* Request a copy of ALL data that a private entity holds on them. (Useful for knowing what the FAANG companies know about YOU.)
* Request a log of all third party sources from where the company gathered data on you.
* Request a log of all third party entities to whom the company has shared data about you.
* Request a log of uses to which your data is being employed within the company.
* Request a log of all incidents where your data was exfiltrated in a security or privacy breach.
* Request that all data that company holds on you is deleted ("the right to be forgotten").
As much as us online commenters like to think that the value we provide these platforms are our words, the fact of the matter is that it's a whole ton of other data that is actually more valuable in order to shape our future decisions and behavior. Providing a platform for us to have political conversations is the carrot to establish a relationship with the company in the first place, install their apps on our mobile devices, etc. Things you say that you believe and will do pale in significance to the actual observed behavioral data that FAANG companies are gathering. So going after them to mandate that they host specific speech, enact factual gatekeepers, etc. is more quaint and cute than it will do anything to actually change their behavior.
If Americans enjoyed the same property rights to the personal data that our European friends enjoy, that equation flips. Bad actors that abuse their users can be punished as users both leave the platform AND mandate that the platform forget about them by deleting their personal data. The right to request a copy of one's personal data allows you to move your conversational history to another platform, increasing the competitiveness of the social media market by eliminating a crucial source of lock-in. ("I can't move because all my friends are on X.") Enjoying the right to know exactly HOW your data is being used and by WHOM empowers people to weed out bad actors doing sketchy things. In short, absent private property rights for personal data, users are basically cattle to harvested, with no way to hold the social media companies accountable. And the beauty of the property rights approach is that it is a common-sense solution that can be enacted with little gov't intervention (all you basically need is an enforcement arm for dealing with complaints about non-compliant platforms) imposing heavy-handed policies (that can change when the political winds change), and empowering transparency and the market to address the issue of free speech online, while also addressing a ton of OTHER issues not directly related to political speech.
So let’s get to the heart of the question: is truth vital to big tech social media? Should we expect naked partisan cheerleading and slanted bias in moderation, not exactly based on truth claims but using that as an excuse? Or would we prefer an honest “we believe X and if you don’t, get out” approach? Is Reddit’s subreddit model “better” since it let’s like-minded people control a thread based on their own views? Does all this “fact checking” make sense when we know the site has a distinct political lean?
Does Section 230 allow Facebook or Twitter to filter based on “truthfulness” in their own opinion of a POTUS’ statements? Does it allow them to distribute lies from politicians they “like” and filter lies from ones they oppose? Is naked partisanship permitted and protected?
I have a liberal (ugh!) view of this. If a site overly filters content, it should be responsible for the content it allows. If it sticks to filtering obvious lies, libelous statements, profanity, pornography and illegal material and has a good set of rules, it should be afforded protection. With regard to Twitter and Facebook, they should be required to include in their rules that opinions and information contrary to progressive dogma is not allowed. Just my opinion. I'm not qualified to argue legality.
The rules definitely need change. I was kicked off Twitter for reversing a statement another tweeter made. She said a child deserved to be beaten by a teacher. I disagreed. I asked her how she would feel if I made the exact statement about her. The Twitter AI banned me, saying I was wishing violence on another. Pure BS. I was merely challenging her wish for violence against that child. But there is no appeals process and I was banned. The platform has become so important to speech and the exchange of ideas, exclusion does limit your freedom of speech. I’m not saying there are no legitimate bans, but the appeals process really needs reform.