Someone once said that any news is good news, but I’m not sure if Facebook would agree. In the last week the social media company has lost two key executives, live streamed the murders of innocent people in New Zealand, there are talks of criminal investigations into the data scandal, and its stock was downgraded by a Wall Street analyst. All of which resulted in a loss of approximately $37 billion in value.
Kara Swisher, co-founder of Recode, appeared on CNBC to discuss “Facebook’s biblically bad week,” in which she used the phrase, “unfettered broadcast platform,” several times. Toward the end of the piece the question is asked about what government can do to rein in abuse on various social media platforms.
Senator Elizabeth Warren is calling for the breakup of several tech titans, but I doubt that the government has the stomach for a long fight on several fronts agains the power of Silicon Valley. For example, in 1969 the government filed suit against IBM charging that the company was “monopolizing interstate trade and commerce in general-purpose digital computers.” The case didn’t come to court until 1975 at which time the government estimated it would take 60 days to make their case. If my memory serves me correctly, the case was settled around the time that I joined IBM after college in 1984! Senator Warren may stand a better chance of proving her native American heritage than winning a case against any of the companies she has mentioned. (Sorry, just couldn’t let that one go).
So what can the government do if anything to prevent the live streaming of murders, bullying, and slander that occurs on these platforms more often than we think? Congressman Devon Nunes is suing Twitter for allowing accounts to insult him. Please note that I am not brining this up as a good example of what can be done by government, but rather as further proof that elected officials in Washington have no clue about how any of this technology works. Don’t believe me, well the term “idiot” was the most searched for term on Google during the government’s Google hearings. Not Congress’ finest hour to say the least.
Something I recently came across in my research on the topic is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Which states that,
“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.”
The act which went into effect in 1996 essentially protects social media sites from getting sued for information that users publish on their platform. Other countries have similar laws, but are now acting to make providers liable if they fail to take "effective and proportionate measures" to prevent users from uploading certain copyright violations and do not response immediately to takedown requests.
Therefore, Congress is as much to blame for this modern Prometheus as the creators themselves. This Kabuki Theater of Washington hearings needs to end and rather than kick the can to the courts, Congress needs to get smarter on tech and start to act. It appears that it might take less time and be much less costly for the government to either amend or revoke Section 230. Imagine the cost that platform providers would incur if they had to build in processes and mechanisms to immediately identify and block defamatory and otherwise horrific content like what we saw this past week out of New Zealand?