Technology policy

Regulators on Both the Right and Left Are Wrong About Big Tech

People need to stop blaming their problems on Facebook and Twitter.

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If the recent congressional hearings involving top executives at Facebook, Twitter, and other so-called "Big Tech" companies are any indication, Trumpian populism and leftist anti-capitalism are all too eager to join forces against the social media giants.

Part of the problem here is a tendency among all too many people to blame a laundry list of problems—everything from election interference to the promotion of disinformation to sex trafficking and screen addiction—on large tech companies. In my cover story for this week's issue of The Washington ExaminerI explain why most of these criticisms are wrongheaded and stemming from moral panic:

Some of these concerns have limited merit—Twitter's "learn to code" debacle, in which users were temporarily banned for joking about the employment prospects of clickbait journalists, comes to mind. Others rely on junk science and moral panic: There is no domestic sex-trafficking epidemic unless all women willfully engaged in prostitution are counted as victims. Regardless, the solutions on the table—whether antitrust investigations or a repeal of Section 230, a legal provision that shields online content providers from some liability by classifying them as platforms rather than publishers—won't fix what's wrong with Big Tech. That's because the platforms are not ultimately responsible for the fact that people often abuse the powers and privileges these companies provide.

Increasingly lost in the conversation about social media's effect on the world is any semblance of personal responsibility. Too many people proceed as if Facebook is the first communicative space to allow disinformation. Ever heard of cable news? Talk radio? The New York Journal's 1898 coverage of the sinking of the Maine? Social media's infinite scroll function did not turn well-mannered youth into maladjusted creeps. In fact, before the era of social media, teens were vastly more likely to risk personal injury—e.g., by drunk driving—to connect with their friends. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey didn't create cancel culture. Behind every social media mob lurks not an algorithm, but a human being.

Read the full column here.

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  1. No Jack whatever his name is didn’t create the cancel culture. He just enables it and uses his company to do its bidding.

    1. True. Blue checks can run roughshod over the normies on Twitter but once you cross them, banned!

  2. It’s government at fault. The only true monopoly in this country is the government, and it intrudes in so much of our lives that it becomes more productive to push government against our opponents than to mind our own business.

    This current kerfuffle is the inevitable outcome of monopolistic coercive government.

  3. “Trumpian populism and leftist anti-capitalism are all too eager to join forces against the social media giants.”

    While Reason is all too eager to join forces with coercive monopolies like state government rather than support free markets.

  4. First you write:

    “a repeal of Section 230, a legal provision that shields online content providers from some liability by classifying them as platforms rather than publishers—won’t fix what’s wrong with Big Tech.”

    Followed by:

    “That’s because the platforms are not ultimately responsible for the fact that people often abuse the powers and privileges these companies provide.”

    Repealing CDA 230 makes them responsible. It solves the problem you’ve just presented. We can all go home now. Crisis averted. Problem solved.

    Facebook and others have bypassed the process of people buying domain names and hosting to doing that all for them while not being responsible. Along with that they have amplified and connected users. As a result the only one that has to abide by registration rules and create a paper trail is facebook who isn’t responsible.

    Years ago some people with good intentions made a boo-boo with CDA 230 and we can fix that.

    You just don’t want your story getting less shares across multiple platforms, do you? That’s it, right?

    1. I’m not sure you appreciate the irony. You’re advocating the repeal of section 230 on a forum that wouldn’t exist without section 230.

      1. I fully understand that. If it didn’t exist I simply wouldn’t post or create icannotreadreasoncomments.com and post there. EZPZ

        1. You could do either of those things now. You chose to post in reason.com’s comments section because you think that’s better than your other choices.

          1. So? If you’re allowed to buy weed from your buddy why would you go to a store? If they make it so buying from your buddy is illegal then you go to the store.

            Just because Reason is offering me something easy and free doesn’t mean it’s my right and I’m supposed to have it. This isn’t a requirement. Remember when backpage shut down its personals? Did people stop fucking? No. Backpage just wasn’t going to allow themselves to be held liable. The gov didn’t shut that section down. They chose to because they didn’t want to be held liable.

            Hell, think like a libertarian. If they close the comments purchase commentsofreason.com, work out an affiliate deal for digital subs, sell advertisements, and host your own moderated comments. If it takes off you can hire enough workers so the post delay will be very short. All the hot or not hot libertarian babes will want you. You’ll get free drinks everywhere you go. Comped sushi and all.

            1. Or better yet, you could open a window shop and start smashing windows.

        2. That’s exactly it. You wouldn’t be able to post anywhere. The only ones who could post would be ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and PBS. Plus major newspapers. Would we be any better off? Might as well just watch TV since you can’t interact with the internet.

  5. “Section 230, a legal provision that shields online content providers from some liability by classifying them as platforms rather than publishers . . . .”

    Section 230 doesn’t even contain the word “platform.” Listen to Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Robby:

    “[Senator Josh] Hawley has repeatedly suggested big social media platforms should lose Section 230 protection, claiming (incorrectly) that there’s a legal distinction between online publishers and online platforms.”

    https://reason.com/2019/07/29/section-230-is-the-internets-first-amendment-now-both-republicans-and-democrats-want-to-take-it-away/

  6. “People need to stop blaming their problems on Facebook and Twitter”

    And who should I turn my blame on? You can’t possibly mean to promote “personal responsibility,” that conservative/ alt-right/ white supremacist idea…

    What next? Don’t get married out of wedlock? Don’t spend money you don’t have? Graduate high school?

    literally shaking

    1. Don’t get married out of wedlock?

      That might solve some problems.

    2. “And who should I turn my blame on?”

      Hillary Clinton
      Elizabeth Warren
      Bernie Sanders

  7. The people want what the people want, Rico. And right now the people want government to take the Internet and shake it up until it behaves. You’re just going to have to learn to deal with it until the next big problem comes along.

  8. Examiner, eh? Look who’s gone full right wing.

    1. Robby’s never going to get a cushy column at the Post or the Times now… Which is probably okay because Suderman and Dalmia are in a who-can-betray-libertarianism-the-hardest death match to try and catch Sulzberger’s eye.

  9. Some of these concerns have limited merit—Twitter’s “learn to code” debacle, in which users were temporarily banned for joking about the employment prospects of clickbait journalists, comes to mind.

    Fair enough. I’ll grant “limited merit” because I too disagree with the laundry list of ills most in politics are putting at the feet of the tech companies.

    But in some cases, those ‘limited merits’ are pretty egregious and are certainly interfering with people’s ability to conduct what would normally be considered legitimate business.

    Despite the naive fantasy that Youtube et. al are algorithmically “curating” content based on your interests and likes in an organic process, they’re not. And we should criticize them and treat them with the suspicion they deserve.

  10. BOTH SIDES EVERYBODY! Both sides.

  11. Yes, more both sides-ism.

    One sides wants everybody to have speech.
    The other does not.

    Truly, a fairly equal position.

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  13. This headline is three words too long.

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