The Volokh Conspiracy

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Is social media a disease, and how do we treat it?

Episode 271 of the Cyberlaw Podcast with Glenn Reynolds


This week I interview Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit and the UT Knoxville law school, about his new book, The Social Media Upheaval. In a crisp 64 pages, Glenn analogizes social media to a primeval city, where new proximity produces periodic outbreaks of diseases that more isolated people never experienced; traces social media's toxicity to the desperate pursuit of engagement; and proposes remedies both for individual users and for society as a whole.  All that plus thoughtful advice on dietary supplements and deadlifts!

In the news roundup, Matthew Heiman dissects a recent Third Circuit ruling that Amazon can be held strictly liable for products it markets for third parties. Unlike Matthew, I am largely persuaded by the court's ruling on products liability – but Matthew and I both have doubts about its use of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to protect Amazon from "failure to warn" liability.

Maury Shenk and Nick Weaver review the progress of the War on Facial Recognition. Opponents have rolled out the ultimate weapon of the modern left:  OMG, ICE is using it! But facial recognition is still winning the war, mostly because its opponents are peddling undifferentiated fear of a technology that's already being used for many very different purposes, from anonymously tracking shoppers moving through a store (where the store doesn't need to know the shoppers' identities) to boarding planes (where the airline damn well better know the passengers' identities, and the tech only has a couple of hundred faces to match).

Matthew and Nick consider China's seizing and installing spyware on travelers' devices. Turns out, China's practice isn't all that different from most government efforts to extract data from phones, except that the Chinese leave their code on Android devices, enabling security researchers to reverse engineer China's deepest fears. And what does China fear most? Japanese heavy metal, apparently. Almost makes you feel a bit of empathy for Beijing…

Maury also highlights Big Tech's concerns about the UK's particularly aggressive proposal for an online "duty of care."

Nick and I follow the problem of fake cancer cures being advertised on Facebook and YouTube down the usual ratholes – who should be responsible in the first place, and why does Silicon Valley think that algorithms will ever be able to discipline such content?

This Week in the US China trade war: No one seems to know exactly what President Trump's concessions at the G-20 meeting amount to, but more and more US tech companies have decided that moving 30% of their tech sourcing out of China is a good idea no matter how the trade war ends. This war isn't good for US companies, but it's really not good for China's. Which, come to think of it, is what President Trump has said from the start.

Finally, if you're looking for tough government action against contractors with bad cybersecurity, CBP is your agency.  It has cut ties with Perceptics, the firm that was breached by Boris the Bullet-Dodger, and seems to be readying a debarment proceeding that will cut the firm off from future government contracts. Matthew and I speculate that there may be something more behind this harsh remedy – perhaps a lack of prompt contractor candor about the breach. Whatever the context, though, this proceeding is likely to set a precedent that haunts government contractors long into the future.

Download the 271st Episode (mp3).

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The views expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not reflect the opinions of the firm.