Reining in Social Media

Our friends at Kiplinger, report that we’ve had enough of this Social Media influx of bad content. In an effort to rein in internet giants, Lawmakers are homing in on a new tactic: Make sites more responsible for user posts.

How? Reduce or scrap their legal immunity for the flood of content that is uploaded by their users. Websites received liability protection in 1996. Congress wanted to encourage platforms to moderate content and remove objectionable posts…violent material, hate speech, etc…without the prospect of being slammed with lawsuits over users’ material.

The move was pivotal in creating today’s web by ushering in an era of popular, user-driven sites…Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia, Yelp, etc. But after a series of Big Tech missteps, Lawmakers from both parties want a redo of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the brief section that some say “created the internet.”

Republicans are leading the charge saying Facebook and others have too much power over speech and discriminate against conservatives. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) wants legal immunity that is premised on neutrality: Popular web platforms would have to prove to regulators that their policies for deleting posts and curating content were politically neutral.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is reportedly mulling taking action: The Federal Trade Comm. and Federal Communications Comm. would vet the policies of websites. An executive order of that kind would be hit with lawsuits and likely fail.

Democrats, too, question legal protections unless web giants do a lot more to fight misinformation, terrorist content, foreign election meddling, harassment, etc. The legal protections that online platforms enjoy today won’t be fully eliminated. But changes around the edges are coming. Among the most likely ideas: Make sites shed more light on how they personalize content, delete certain material or ban users. Hold web platforms more accountable for some moneymaking content, such as YouTube’s business partnerships with outside video makers. Require websites to be more accountable for the ads they run or for posts that users pay to promote.

Lawmakers recently narrowed protections of Section 230 for posted material relating to sex trafficking, the first major change since 1996. Other notable exceptions already in the law include intellectual property and federal criminal prosecutions. Otherwise, sites aren’t on the hook for hosted content, as traditional publishers are. The talk in Washington will jolt Big Tech into taking major voluntary action in a rush to avoid a disruption of its business models. Expect more transparency in how behind-the-scenes decisions happen…why one sees a recommended video, for instance, or how to appeal if a post is removed. Users will get more control, too.

Lawmakers will lean on rhetoric for now, as legislation seems a way off. Keep up the good work, Lawmakers!

David WB Parker is a principal of Parker Associates of Jacksonville, Florida, marketing consultants to the real estate industry as well as the President of PTC Computer Solutions, IT Consultants and Strategists, and also an active real estate sales professional with Barclay’s Real Estate Group.  Though based out of Jacksonville, Florida, David and the team at Parker Associates have worked in 17 Countries and 33 States through the years as well as 65 out of 67 counties in Florida.  David can be reached at 904-607-8763 or via email davidp@ptccomputersolutions.com.

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