Why Section 230 should be curbed for algorithmically driven platforms

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

Facebook in the midst of what we can only hope will prove to be an existential crisis. So I was struck this morning when Boston Globe technology columnist Hiawatha Bray suggested a step that I proposed more than a year ago — eliminating Section 230 protections from social media platforms that use algorithms. Bray writes:

Maybe we should eliminate Section 230 protections for algorithmically powered social networks. For Internet sites that let readers find their own way around, the law would remain the same. But a Facebook or Twitter or YouTube or TikTok could be sued by private citizens — not the government — for postings that defame somebody or which threaten violence.

Here’s what I wrote for GBH News in June 2020:

One possible approach might be to remove Section 230 protections from any online publisher that uses algorithms in order to drive up engagement. When 230 was enacted, third-party content flowed chronologically. By removing protections from algorithmic content, the law would recognize that digital media have fundamentally changed.

If Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook want to continue profiting from the divisiveness they’ve helped foster, then maybe they should have to pay for it by assuming the same legal liability for third-party content as print publishers.

I hope it’s an idea whose time has come.

2 thoughts on “Why Section 230 should be curbed for algorithmically driven platforms

  1. MagellanNH

    Section 230 reform will be much harder to accomplish than people think and imo this isn’t the solution to the mess Facebook has caused. The tell on this is that Facebook itself is currently blanketing DC with ads calling for section 230 reform. They know they can control to the process and protect their interests. Here’s some good analysis of the technical and legal challenges with effective 230 reform that focuses on algorithms and amplification:
    https://knightcolumbia.org/content/amplification-and-its-discontents
    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20210623/12462247046/techdirt-podcast-episode-287-regulating-amplification-is-lot-harder-than-you-think.shtml

    I’m starting to think a better solution may be to treat these social media behemoths, with algorithms specifically designed to amplify rage and hate and misinformation, as generally harmful to society in the same way we treat smoking as harmful – that is, by using sin taxes to discourage them. Crafting effective legislation to do this will be difficult, but the resulting legislation is much less likely to be defanged or struck down by the courts over first amendment concerns or to fall victim to regulatory capture.
    https://adtax.paulromer.net/

    In the meantime, the most effective step anyone can take to counter the damage Facebook is doing is to stop using the platform and delete their account. IMO, everyone on Facebook is an enabler of the harm the platform is causing.

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