Lot’s of political spaghetti is being thrown against the walls by 2020 Presidential hopefuls and Congress alike to see what might stick. This week’s hot topic is a call to break up big tech. Senator Elizabeth Warren was the first to call for break up back in March of this year. Now House Intelligence Chair (Yes, Congress is filled with oxymoronic names like this), Adam Schiff chimed in with a group of policymakers calling fro the repeal of protections afforded to tech platforms.
Fred Wilson recently expressed his displeasure with the thought of breaking up big tech in favor of opening up their platforms and treating them as protocols. I must admit it is a clever idea and one that wish I had come up with. However, I’m not sure if it solves the problem that has landed social media companies in the situation in which they find themselves. Privacy, or lack of it, and irresponsibility is the issue at large.
Though I do get a laugh watching Congressional leaders talk about SnapFace and Instabook, it does make me cringe to think that they are the policymakers for the rest of us. And like many issues that plague society today - opioid crisis, asset bubbles, student loan crisis - the roots are often found in misguided policies.
“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 went into effect in 1996 when few in the world, let alone policymakers, even understood what the Internet was to become. Section 230 protects social media sites from getting sued for information that users publish on their platform. It basically grants them immunity that other news organizations do not have. There are some who contend that this law has had more to do with innovation and growth of the Internet than any other law. I guess if you feel strongly that giving voice to the banal is innovation then you are in this camp. I not sure that I agree.
So, lawmakers are now threatening to make broad changes to Section 230, but haven’t made any concrete proposals at this point. Other countries that have similar laws to Section 230, 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 respond immediately to takedown requests.
When this law was enacted a bunch of what are now considered “big tech” social media companies didn’t even exist. So perhaps it was necessary to get the ball rolling. After all what would the average student do with all that time wasted watching their friends have a better time than they do? Read?
As I previously wrote, it will take years and cost millions of dollars to break up any one business. Amending Section 230 puts the onus on media companies to police themselves or face fines. Seems fair and equitable to me, but as always your opinions are welcome.