Smaller Web sites Nervous Over Large Fb’s Help for Legal responsibility Reform
According to Facebook Inc., it is time to reconsider the immunity that protects them from litigation over what users post online. This leaves smaller websites concerned about the cost of taking more responsibility for what is displayed on their platforms.
The social media giant led the Washington debate over liability protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which may be the subject of a proposal from the US Federal Communications Commission as early as Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, President Donald Trump is expected to veto a defense law, also because lawmakers refused to include a revocation of protection. Congress plans to overturn the veto, but lawmakers have said they will address the liability shield in the upcoming term.
At the same time, Facebook has been a leader on the matter, running ads saying, “We want updated Internet regulations to provide clear guidelines for tackling today’s toughest challenges.”
That makes small and medium-sized businesses like Etsy Inc. and Tripadvisor Inc. nervous. Facebook can afford the hassle of moderating content backed by legions of lawyers if Congress weakens its protective shield. Not so the smaller companies, they say.
“The Hill is focused on resolving misuse or loss of responsibility perceived by Big Tech, but a single policy can actually encourage these larger platforms at the expense of smaller and midsize platforms like Etsy,” said Jeffrey Zubricki, director of US government relations for the company.
Etsy and other midsize companies announced on December 15 a coalition called Internet Works, which was formed in recognition of the continuing debate over the liability rules in the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden.
Emma Llanso, director of the Free Speech Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a political group, said there was “a real myopia among lawmakers just thinking of Facebook and Google” when considering hosting bills pull. “This is a real problem for smaller websites and applications because they don’t have the resources that these larger companies have.”
The FCC could deal the first blow to Section 230 protection by proposing a reinterpretation of the rules Trump insists on should it be completely eliminated. A vote on the proposal would take place next month in the final days of Republican control of the Commission.
Tripadvisor, which provides travelers’ reviews of their experiences, announced to the FCC that it needed legally mandated safeguards to ensure the integrity of the posts that appear on its website. Almost every 20th user contribution offered in 2018 was rejected because it was irrelevant, biased, or incorrect.
“Review sites like Tripadvisor could easily become nothing more than positive ad reviews,” as “hosting critical or negative views would pose a significant risk of legal liability,” the company said in a filing.
Speed and transparency
Etsy is working to maintain its status as a marketplace for unique merchandise. In 2019, access to more than 470,000 listings from nearly 97,000 sellers that did not meet the community standards that require handmade items according to the company’s annual transparency report was removed or disabled.
The company “will advocate policies that will protect our ability to operate an open market and provide economic opportunities for our 3.7 million sellers around the world,” Zubricki said in a statement.
Facebook’s chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, told lawmakers in October that he supported reforms under Section 230, saying that “Congress should update the law to ensure that it works as intended.”
Zuckerberg has called for companies to be regulated in terms of their speed and transparency in eliminating illegal content. Conveniently, Facebook already publishes a report on artificial intelligence shutdowns showing what percentage of the time the company is able to detect and remove content such as hate speech and nudity before others see it. He said such a report is an example of what all companies could offer.
Warning from the google boss
Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., has warned of changes in the law. Speaking to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in October, Pichai urged lawmakers “to be very thoughtful about changes in Section 230 and be aware of the consequences these changes could have for businesses and customers. “
“We all have the same goal: free access to information for everyone and responsible protection of people and their data,” said Pichai. “We support legal frameworks that achieve these goals.”
Jon Berroya, interim president and chief executive officer of the Internet Association, which includes Google and Facebook, said in a statement that the trading group “has an obligation to work productively with Congress and the Biden administration.” The discussion will “include ways to address serious challenges without undermining this important law,” said Berroya.
Twitter Inc., less wealthy than Facebook or Alphabet, remains cautious.
“The inadvertent entrenchment of dominant companies by regulations that only they can comply with – and by affecting American innovation and global competition – should be avoided at all costs,” said Lauren Culbertson, director of US policy for the company.
Congress did not come together on a single proposal. However, legislators on both sides of the aisle have increasingly sought changes to the provision.
Democrats highlight concerns about election misinformation, faulty products, guns, online fraud, and other content that remains open. Both sides have criticized the proliferation of online sex abuse, especially against children, and drugs.
Republicans suggest that companies’ ability to remove content enables Conservative censorship – something the social media sites say they don’t.
–With the support of Kurt Wagner and Sarah Frier.
Copyright 2020 Bloomberg.