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Panelists Urge Government Resist Getting Involved in Content Moderation

Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf warned against government intervention in online moderation.

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WASHINGTON, April 14, 2022 — Vint Cerf, a vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google, warned against government moderation of content on the internet during a panel event last week, as Washington focuses on addressing the power of big technology platforms.

“Deliberate government censorship is almost never helpful because it inhibits the ability of the population to learn things it should know and needs to know,” said Cerf at the April 6 Broadband Breakfast live event, which discussed internet censorship.

While Cerf is adamant that the government should not play a role in online content moderation, he is also not an advocate for company censorship either.

“Censorship by companies is not necessarily any more attractive, except that it’s forced on many of those companies, including mine, partly because we impose those terms and conditions in the hope of shielding people from harmful behavior or we are induced and provided with incentives to do that because if we don’t do that there will be fines that are inimical to business,” Cerf said.

“My sense is that we’re going to be forced to cope with some form of censorship whether it’s self-censorship or some kind of censorship imposed by legislative rule,” added Cerf. “My primary desire is to maximize the utility of the internet and do whatever we can to minimize its harmful abuse.”

Fellow panelist at the event, Berin Szoka, president of tech lobbyist TechFreedom, echoed Cerf’s point saying, “The best answer is for the government to stay out because in the United States, it is simply not a proper thing for government officials to get involved in how content is moderated.”

Screenshot taken from the April 6 Broadband Breakfast Live Online event

The discussion comes as debate swirls in Washington about what to do about big tech platforms and market power. The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission have been tasked by President Joe Biden with enforcing antitrust laws that includes addressing monopoly power and businesses practices perceived as anticompetitive.

Szoka was quick to dismantle Biden’s antitrust approach at the Wednesday event. “This is not an antitrust issue; it can’t be an antitrust issue,” he said. “Antitrust is about regulating business practices, not editorial judgements. There are a lot of people who want to make this an antitrust issue on both sides of the aisle.

“Republicans want revenge against big tech platforms for perceived bias and Democrats want somehow for antitrust law to do something about abstract values like diversity in media, or human rights, or whatever and these are simply inappropriate things for competition law to address,” he added.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event and REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022, 12 Noon ET — Censorship by a Country, or Censorship by a Tech Platform?

Residents of countries under authoritarian control face censorship of what they can post online and limitations on what websites they can visit. At home in the U.S., much of the political right views current content moderation policies of social media platforms as their own form of censorship. How do these content control practices compare? Just how similar are the scenarios and solutions proposed by their opponents? Join us for a timely Broadband Breakfast conversation about hot domestic and international issues amid the tumult on the world scene today.

Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:

  • Bronwyn Howell, Nonresident Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
  • Kian Vesteinsson, Research Analyst, Freedom House
  • Berin Szoka, President, TechFreedom
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

 

Bronwyn Howell is a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where she focuses on the regulation, development, and deployment of new technologies and the use of technology in the health sector. She also uses multiple methodologies from economics, decision sciences, public policy, and governance to address issues of policy and management in the information, communications, and digital technology industries. As a resident of New Zealand, she is especially interested in exploring how experiences in other countries (notably Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa) can inform debate and policy in the United States (and vice versa).

Kian Vesteinsson is a research analyst for technology and democracy at Freedom House, where he serves as an expert on human rights in the digital age. He covers Asia for Freedom on the Net, Freedom House’s annual assessment of internet freedom, and has also covered sub-Saharan Africa and western Europe for the publication. Previously, Kian worked at Human Rights Watch and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Berin Szoka serves as President of TechFreedom. Previously, he was a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Center for Internet Freedom at The Progress & Freedom Foundation. Before joining PFF, he was an Associate in the Communications Practice Group at Latham & Watkins LLP, where he advised clients on regulations affecting the Internet and telecommunications industries.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com 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 from BetaNews

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Free Speech

Panel Hears Opposing Views on Content Moderation Debate

Some agreed there is egregious information that should be downranked on search platforms.

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Screenshot of Renee DiResta, research manager at Stanford Internet Observatory.

WASHINGTON, September 14, 2022 – Panelists wrangled over how technology platforms should handle content moderation at an event hosted by the Lincoln Network Friday, with one arguing that search engines should neutralize misinformation that cause direct, “tangible” harms and another advocating an online content moderation standard that doesn’t discriminate on viewpoints.

Debate about what to do with certain content on technology platforms has picked up steam since former President Donald Trump was removed last year from platforms including Facebook and Twitter for allegedly inciting the January 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol.

Search engines generally moderate content algorithmically, prioritizing certain results over others. Most engines, like Google, prioritize results from institutions generally considered to be credible, such as universities and government agencies.

That can be a good thing, said Renee DiResta, research manager at Stanford Internet Observatory. If search engines allow scams or medical misinformation to headline search results, she argued, “tangible” material or physical harms will result.

The internet pioneered communications from “one-to-many” broadcast media – e.g., television and radio – to a “many-to-many” model, said DiResta. She argued that “many-to-many” interactions create social frictions and make possible the formation of social media mobs.

At the beginning of the year, Georgia Republic representative Marjorie Taylor Greene was permanently removed from Twitter for allegedly spreading Covid-19 misinformation, the same reason Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was removed from Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube.

Lincoln Network senior fellow Antonio Martinez endorsed a more permissive content moderation strategy that – excluding content that incites imminent, lawless action – is tolerant of heterodox speech. “To think that we can epistemologically or even technically go in and establish capital-T Truth at scale is impossible,” he said.

Trump has said to be committed to a platform of open speech with the creation of his social media website Truth Social. Other platforms, such as social media site Parler and video-sharing website Rumble, have purported to allow more speech than the incumbents. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk previously committed to buying Twitter because of its policies prohibiting certain speech, though he now wants out of that commitment.

Alex Feerst, CEO of digital content curator Murmuration Labs, said that free-speech aphorisms – such as, “The cure for bad speech is more speech” – may no longer hold true given the volume of speech enabled by the internet.

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Big Tech

Twitter Whistleblower Says Company Needs to Work to Permanently Delete User Data

Meanwhile, Twitter shareholders approved a deal to sell the company to Elon Musk, who wants out.

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Photo of Peiter Zatko at Tuesday's Senate Judiciary hearing

WASHINGTON, September 14, 2022 – Twitter’s former head of security and now company whistleblower told a Senate Judiciary committee Tuesday that Twitter must put more resources into trying to permanently delete user data upon the elimination of accounts to preserve the security and privacy of users.

Peiter Zatko, who was fired from Twitter in January due to performance issues, blew the whistle on the company last month by alleging Twitter’s lack of sufficient security and privacy safeguards poses a national security risk. He alleged that the company does not delete user data when accounts are deleted.

On Tuesday, Zatko told the Senate Judiciary committee that the company needs to take the step of ensuring that the personal information of users are deleted when they destroy their accounts.

He alleged company engineers can access any user data on Twitter, including home addresses, phone numbers and contact lists, and sell the data without company executives knowing.

“I continued to believe in the mission of the company and root for its success, but that success can only happen if the privacy and security of Twitter users and the public are protected,” Zatko said.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Twitter investors approved SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s takeover of the company, despite the billionaire trying to back out of the deal allegedly over a lack of information about the number of fake accounts on the platform. The company and Musk are currently in court battling over whether he must follow through on the deal.

Musk’s lawyer has asked the court to delay the trial — scheduled for mid-October — to allow his client to investigate the whistleblower’s claims, according to reporting from Reuters.

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Big Tech

A White House Event, Biden Administration Seeks Regulation of Big Tech

Participants voiced concerns over alleged abuses by big tech companies.

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Photo of President Joe Biden

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2022 – President Joe Biden on Thursday called for a federal privacy standard, Section 230 reform, and increased antitrust scrutiny against big tech.

“Although tech platforms can help keep us connected, create a vibrant marketplace of ideas, and open up new opportunities for bringing products and services to market, they can also divide us and wreak serious real-world harms,” according to a White House readout from the administration’s listening session on Thursday.

Participants at the White House event voiced concerns over alleged abuses by big tech companies.

A new data privacy regime?

The Biden administration called for “clear limits on the ability to collect, use, transfer, and maintain our personal data.” It also endorsed bipartisan congressional efforts to establish a national privacy standard.

Last June, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., introduced the American Data Privacy and Protection Act. The bill gained substantial bipartisan support and was advanced by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in July.

In the absence of federal privacy laws, several states drafted privacy laws of their own. The Golden State, for instance, implemented the California Consumer Privacy Act in 2018. The CCPA’s protections were extended by the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020, which goes into effect in January 2023.

Biden maintains his position seeking changes to Section 23o

“Tech platforms currently have special legal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that broadly shield them from liability even when they host or disseminate illegal, violent conduct or materials,” argued the White House document.

Biden’s hostility towards Section 230 is not new. Section 230 protects internet platforms from most legal liability that might otherwise result from third party–generated content. For example, although an online publication may be guilty of libel for a news story it publishes, it cannot be held liable for slanderous reader posts in its comments section.

Critics of Section 230 say that it unfairly shields rogue social media companies from accountability for their misdeeds. And in addition to Biden and other Democrats, many Republicans are dislike the provision. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, argue that platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube discriminate against conservative speech and therefore should not benefit from such federal legal protections.

Section 230’s proponents say that it is the foundation of online free speech.

Ramping up antitrust

“Today…a small number of dominant Internet platforms use their power to exclude market entrants,” Thursday’s press release said. This sentiment is consonant with the administration’s antitrust policies to date. Indeed, Lina Khan, chair of the Federal Trade Commission, was a vocal antitruster in the academy and has greatly expanded the scope of the agency’s antitrust efforts since her appointment in 2021.

In the Senate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, is sponsoring the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, a bill that bans large online platforms from engaging in putatively “anticompetitive” business practices. The measure was approved by the Judiciary Committee earlier this year, and, though it was stalled over the summer to make way for other Democratic legislative priorities, it may come for a vote this fall.

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