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Section 230

Social Media Needs to Be Held Accountable to a Higher Standard Than No Standard



Photo of Sara-Jayne Terp from Atlantic Council

February 8, 2021— The spread of disinformation and misinformation can be controlled if the same rules on transparency required of the broadcast industry are applied to social media, an Atlantic Council webinar heard Wednesday.

That includes making changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act governing liability of internet intermediaries to include a requirement that social media companies make clear who paid for ads that are displayed, said Pablo Breuer, co-author of the Adversarial Misinformation and Influence Tactics and Techniques framework.

Breuer’s framework, which was co-authored with Sara-Jayne Terp, seeks to identify the best means to detect and discuss what Terp referred to as “disinformation behaviors.”

The webinar last Wednesday focused on the critical issue of misinformation and disinformation and the roles and responsibilities of social media, the government and citizens.

Breuer noted that just four years ago, the attitude surrounding misinformation and disinformation campaigns was very different.

“When Sara-Jayne and I started talking about this, people thought we were crazy—they thought there was no disinformation problem,” he said. “Now you see it covered on the nightly news.”

When asked why the issue has only come to the forefront of society within the last couple of years, Breuer pointed out that in the past, disseminating information required a lot of capital. With the advent of social media, that was no longer the case.

Pablo Breuer

Pablo Breuer

“We’ve democratized the ability to reach a mass audience. Now we live in a world where an entertainer has twice the number of followers as the President of the United States,” said Breuer. ”They don’t have to clear their message with anyone—they can say something completely false.”

For a long time, social media was a largely-unregulated wild west of commentary, news and opinions.

But then the data-harvesting exploits of firms like Cambridge Analytica exposed how information was used to mold citizens’ thinking on issues that impacted political elections around the world began to put things into focus.

We may be approaching the end of non-regulation, as the banning of former President Donald Trump and other right-wing political commentators from Twitter and other social media platforms may lead to renewed scrutiny on the power of tech companies.

Breuer conceded that while more attention being focused on the issue is a step in the right direction, there are still huge dangers associated with the spread of fraudulent information and the many channels at the hands of malevolent actors..

Following the banning of the aforementioned figures, more of that base gravitated toward other more receptive applications, including Parler and Gab.

Counter-measures to social media disinformation?

Terp and Breuer compiled a list of what they regard as effective countermeasures to mitigate misinformation.Terpnoted that many people have been unknowingly co-opted as “unwitting agents.” In addition to being unwitting, they are not necessarily being influenced by external entities.

“Disinformation is coming from inside the house. What we are seeing is this move past, ‘the Russians are coming,’ to a more honest discussion about financial motivations, political motivations and reputational drivers of misinformation.

Terp also expressed that there is a strong relationship between privacy, democracy, and disinformation. She explained how greater consumer privacy reduces the level of targeting by outside entities in terms of the content a consumer is exposed to.

In the aftermath of Facebook’s move to wholly integrate Whatsapp into the social media ecosystem, for example, Signal, a privacy-by-design messaging app, saw its adoption skyrocket. End-to-end encryption messaging has also been a problem for law enforcement, they say, because it inhibits their ability to access messages of criminals.

Terp described disinformation as merchandise, and that one of the primary goals of anyone trying to curb its spread should be to take money out of it. According to Terp, countermeasure efforts deployed by social media platforms designed to make disinformation less profitable have had a mitigating effect.

Tackling bad behavior, not combatting people

In her conclusion, Terp made it clear that the only way to make policies that are effective at combatting the spread of disinformation is to tackle the behavior and not people. More needs to be done to spot behaviors early so that social media and government  can engage in more preventative action, she said, rather than simply reacting to things as they happen.

Breuer offered some advice for the average person: He encouraged the audience to engage with those they disagree with, and to avoid trapping themselves in a virtual echo chamber.

He added the government needs to reexamine Section 230 and  be more proactive in crafting policy to address the demands of modern technology.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Broadband Breakfast, Washington Jewish Week, and The Center Square, among other publications. He primarily covers Big Tech and spectrum policy.

Section 230

Parler Policy Exec Hopes ‘Sustainable’ Free Speech Change on Twitter if Musk Buys Platform

Parler’s Amy Peikoff said she wishes Twitter can follow in her social media company’s footsteps.



Screenshot of Amy Peikoff

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2022 – A representative from a growing conservative social media platform said last week that she hopes Twitter, under new leadership, will emerge as a “sustainable” platform for free speech.

Amy Peikoff, chief policy officer of social media platform Parler, said as much during a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday, in which she wondered about the implications of platforms banning accounts for views deemed controversial.

The social media world has been captivated by the lingering possibility that SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk could buy Twitter, which the billionaire has criticized for making decisions he said infringe on free speech.

Before Musk’s decision to go in on the company, Parler saw a surge in member sign-ups after former President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter for comments he made that the platform saw as encouraging the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021, a move Peikoff criticized. (Trump also criticized the move.)

Peikoff said she believes Twitter should be a free speech platform just like Parler and hopes for “sustainable” change with Musk’s promise.

“At Parler, we expect you to think for yourself and curate your own feed,” Peikoff told Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark. “The difference between Twitter and Parler is that on Parler the content is controlled by individuals; Twitter takes it upon itself to moderate by itself.”

She recommended “tools in the hands of the individual users to reward productive discourse and exercise freedom of association.”

Peikoff criticized Twitter for permanently banning Donald Trump following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and recounted the struggle Parler had in obtaining access to hosting services on AWS, Amazon’s web services platform.

Screenshot of Amy Peikoff

While she defended the role of Section 230 of the Telecom Act for Parler and others, Peikoff criticized what she described as Twitter’s collusion with the government. Section 230 provides immunity from civil suits for comments posted by others on a social media network.

For example, Peikoff cited a July 2021 statement by former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki raising concerns with “misinformation” on social media. When Twitter takes action to stifle anti-vaccination speech at the behest of the White House, that crosses the line into a form of censorship by social media giants that is, in effect, a form of “state action.”

Conservatives censored by Twitter or other social media networks that are undertaking such “state action” are wrongfully being deprived of their First Amendment rights, she said.

“I would not like to see more of this entanglement of government and platforms going forward,” she said Peikoff and instead to “leave human beings free to information and speech.”

Screenshot of Drew Clark and Amy Peikoff during Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast’s Online Event

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Mr. Musk Goes to Washington: Will Twitter’s New Owner Change the Debate About Social Media?

The acquisition of social media powerhouse Twitter by Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, raises a host of issues about social media, free speech, and the power of persuasion in our digital age. Twitter already serves as the world’s de facto public square. But it hasn’t been without controversy, including the platform’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump in the wake of his tweets during the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Under new management, will Twitter become more hospitable to Trump and his allies? Does Twitter have a free speech problem? How will Mr. Musk’s acquisition change the debate about social media and Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act?

Guests for this Broadband Breakfast for Lunch session:

  • Amy Peikoff, Chief Policy Officer, Parler
  • Drew Clark (host), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Amy Peikoff is the Chief Policy Officer of Parler. After completing her Ph.D., she taught at universities (University of Texas, Austin, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, United States Air Force Academy) and law schools (Chapman, Southwestern), publishing frequently cited academic articles on privacy law, as well as op-eds in leading newspapers across the country on a range of issues. Just prior to joining Parler, she founded and was President of the Center for the Legalization of Privacy, which submitted an amicus brief in United States v. Facebook in 2019.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

Illustration by Mohamed Hassan used with permission

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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Section 230

Leave Section 230 Alone, Panelists Urge Government

The debate on what government should — or shouldn’t — do with respect to liability protections for platforms continues.



Photo of Josh Hammer, Paul Larken and Niam Yaraghi by Douglas Blair via Twitter

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2022 – A panelist at a Heritage Foundation event on Thursday said that the government should not make changes to Section 230, which protects online platforms from being liable for the content their users post.

However, the other panelist, Newsweek Opinion Editor Josh Hammer, said technology companies have been colluding with the government to stifle speech. Hammer said that Section 230 should be interpreted and applied more vigorously against tech platforms.

Countering this view was Niam Yaraghi, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation.

“While I do agree with the notion that what these platforms are doing is not right, I am much more optimistic” than Hammer, Yaraghi said. “I do not really like the government to come in and do anything about it, because I believe that a capitalist market, an open market, would solve the issue in the long run.”

Addressing a question from the moderator about whether antitrust legislation or stricter interpretation of Section 230 should be the tool to require more free speech on big tech platforms, Hammer said that “Section 230 is the better way to go here.”

Yaraghi, by contrast, said that it was incumbent on big technology platforms to address content moderation, not the government.

In March, Vint Cerf, a vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google, and the president of tech lobbyist TechFreedom warned against government moderation of content on the internet as Washington focuses on addressing the power of big tech platforms.

While some say Section 230 only protects “neutral platforms”, others claim it allows powerful companies to ignore user harm. Legislation from the likes of Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., would exempt 230 protections for platforms that fail to address Covid mis- and disinformation.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., agreed that Section 230 only protected “neutral platforms,” or that it allowed tech companies to ignore user harm. Wyden, one of the authors of the provision in the 1996 Telecom Act, instead believes that the law is a “sword and shield” to protect against small companies, organizations and movements against legal liability for what users post on their websites.

Additional correction: A previous version of this story misattributed a statement by Niam Yaraghi to Josh Hammer. The story has been corrected, and additional context added.

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Section 230

Reforming Section 230 Won’t Help With Content Moderation, Event Hears

Government is ‘worst person’ to manage content moderation.



Photo of Chris Cox at the event.
Photo of Chris Cox at Monday's AEI event

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2022 — Reforming Section 230 won’t help with content moderation on online platforms, observers said Monday.

“If we’re going to have some content moderation standards, the government is going to be, usually, the worst person to do it,” said Chris Cox, a member of the board of directors at tech lobbyist Net Choice and a former Congressman.

These comments came during a panel discussion during an online event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute that focused on speech regulation and Section 230, a provision in the Communications Decency Act that protects technology platforms from being liable for posts by their users.

“Content moderation needs to be handled platform by platform and rules need to be established by online communities according to their community standards,” Cox said. “The government is not very competent at figuring out the answers to political questions.”

There was also discussion about the role of the first amendment in content moderation on platforms. Jeffrey Rosen, a nonresident fellow at AEI, questioned if the first amendment provides protection for content moderation by a platform.

“The concept is that the platform is not a publisher,” he said. “If it’s not [a publisher], then there’s a whole set of questions as to what first amendment interests are at stake…I don’t think that it’s a given that the platform is the decider of those content decisions. I think that it’s a much harder question that needs to be addressed.”

Late last year, experts said that it is not possible for platforms to remove from their site all content that people may believe to be dangerous during a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. However some, like Alex Feerst, the co-founder of the Digital Trust and Safety Partnership, believe that platforms should hold some degree of liability for the content of their sites as harm mitigation with regards to dangerous speech is necessary where possible.

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