It’s a deeply held belief among many conservatives that social media networks and Google are suppressing them by deleting material that violates their terms of services or ranking pages higher in search results than theirs just because those pages appear to be more useful, relevant, and reliable. What a world! Trump is out to fix this, with good old-fashioned control of content by the government. Because freedom!
The FTC will also be asked to open a public complaint docket, according to the summary, and to work with the FCC to develop a report investigating how tech companies curate their platforms and whether they do so in neutral ways. Companies whose monthly user base accounts for one-eighth of the U.S. population or more could find themselves facing scrutiny, the summary said, including but not limited to Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat.
The Trump administration’s proposal seeks to significantly narrow the protections afforded to companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Under the current law, internet companies are not liable for most of the content that their users or other third parties post on their platforms. Tech platforms also qualify for broad legal immunity when they take down objectionable content, at least when they are acting “in good faith.”
Section 230 of the CDA is why you have Facebook (ugh), Twitter, comments sections in newspapers, and so on. It means that while, say, the Washington Post is responsible for the content of the articles it publishes, they are not responsible for the comments that the public leaves under them. If they were responsible, you would not see those comments, because managing them to review everything just wouldn’t be feasible.
Similarly, YouTube can exist because it’s not responsible for the content of videos people post (although there are specific situations where they have to intervene after complaints or legal challenges). Do you think YouTube should be responsible? Where, there are 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. Go figure out how that works.
While the proposal doesn’t make social media providers liable to everything people put there, they would get a new, amorphous responsibility to curate the content “fairly,” as determined by the federal government. So basically it creates a very powerful tool for the government to control information presented to the public. I’m sure nobody would every abuse that!
It will of course run straight into the Constitution, which will at the very least slow things down. It’s also just mind-numbingly malevolent. Trump has no idea what’s going on, of course, but the people in the administration do know what this is: a chance to score political points with his base and to create an excellent tool for harassing political enemies. It’s a big win, if you’re Dr. Evil. Oh, wait – they are.
What they’re counting on as well is that a future Democratic president won’t try to abuse it. They’re probably right. Of course, they could also be wrong, and if this is successful, the people creating it could wind up on the receiving end of it.
The only pure losers here are the public. Except in one kind of utopian scenario – Facebook and the like wither way, and dynamic communities under that 1/8 of the population threshold pop up. That would actually be a really good thing; we would be much better off if the internet didn’t consist about 3-5 sites where all interaction takes place. I’m not optimistic enough to expect that outcome, though.