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December 21, 2018


2019: The Year Of Reckoning For Big Tech As State Legislation Proposes $75,000 Fine Per Censored Item For Platforms With 75 Million-Plus Users


By Susan Duclos - All News PipeLine

As Facebook goes into damage control mode after a New York Times investigation revealed that on top of all the data breaches and scandals that have plagued the company over the last year, they also allowed companies such as Netflix and Spotify access to users' private messages, we note reports that Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook lost $19 billion from their 2018 stock slide, as users rate Facebook as the company least trusted with their personal data.

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In September Pew reported that Facebook had suffered a marked decline in active users since March, with 42 percent limiting their daily activity and engagement as scandal continued to roil the company and stocks throughout 2018.

The more recent Pew survey also found that 26 percent said that they deleted the Facebook app from their phones. All this suggests that a substantial minority or even a majority of Facebook users have to some degree disengaged from the platform in the past year.

It’s not entirely clear from the survey discussion whether there’s any overlap between those “taking a break” and those who deleted the app. In addition, a majority (54 percent) also reported adjusting their privacy settings.

In December another pattern emerged with journalists deciding to make public announcements about deleting Facebook entirely, with Capitol Hill Correspondent, Kasie Hunt, highlighting her reasons in an announcement posted to her Facebook account before deleting her account, explaining how she doesn't trust Facebook anymore and that she would not be staying on the platform in 2019.

At the end of her announcement she stated "And here's hoping Facebook doesn't bury this post because it links to this negative story," showing that while the "trust" issues is first and foremost, even the establishment media knows, even as many deny it, that Facebook does practice censorship on a regular basis. Hunt took a screen shot of her Facebook post to her followers, then shared it on Twitter with two words tagged to @Facebook's Twitter account, saying "I'm out."


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Hunt was not the only journalist announcing they were quitting Facebook either, as Jessica Valenti from Medium announced "Just deleted my FB account and it felt GREAT." Food and Travel writer Jacob Dean joined the exodus, stating "Deleted my @facebook account today. Feels good. A little scary too, which goes to show you how much emotional power the company has. Definitely the right decision though. #Facebook #DeleteFacebook." 

Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg took it a step further and announced he was not only quitting Facebook, but was also leaving Facebook-owned Instagram and Messenger, saying "my own values and the policies and actions of Facebook have diverged to the point where I’m no longer comfortable there."

FACEBOOK IS NOT ALONE IN FACING THE UPCOMING TECH RECKONING

Facebook is not the only Silicon Valley company facing a reckoning, as we see a new report at NewsBusters, where Google's YouTube "removed 58 million videos, 1.67 million channels, and 224 million comments," between July and September, for "violations including inappropriate content or spreading 'hate speech'."

The problem with that is that YouTube partners with Southern Poverty Law Center, allowing them to determine what is and is not hate speech, while SPLC has a long history of labeling conservative and religious pro-life groups as "hate groups."

Via NewsBusters:

The Hill quoted an unnamed YouTube spokesman who confessed they removed “conspiracy theories targeted towards particular groups or people because those videos violate hate speech and harassment policies.” However, YouTube did not say who was responsible for flagging those videos or list the “conspiracy theories” that were removed. Many right-wing causes are treated by the left as conspiracy theories -- from disputing climate change to illegal immigration.

Reuters reported that algorithms are being used to determine which videos should be taken down. It also noted that while Google (which owns YouTube) may have expanded to use more than 10,000 moderators “pre-screening every video [is] unfeasible.” MIT recently published a study about how algorithms are clearly biased based upon their creators’ worldviews, yet companies “show no interest in fixing the problem.”

Human moderators turn out to be just as problematic, as proven on November 13th when a YouTube moderator mistook a famous World War 2 Era video mocking Nazis for pro-Nazi propaganda and took it down. Adam Green, The Public Domain Review’s editor in chief, found the situation farcical, shocked at how any moderator could have mistaken a clear satire for being pro-Nazi.

As for Twitter, on December 20th, many Wikileaks staff and the main Wikileaks account, with over 5.4 million followers, were all locked and frozen, which was announced by Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, who wasn't caught up in the lockouts, so she was able to inform followers. 

Twitter is also accused of shadow banning the Wikileaks accounts, via Caitlin Johnstone over at Medium:

It is worth noting here that Dorsey has an established record of lying to Twitter users about the social media outlet’s censorship practices. In the lead-up to the 2016 election, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was asked point-blank if Twitter was obstructing the #DNCLeaks from trending, a hashtag people were using to build awareness of the DNC emails which had just been published by WikiLeaks, and Dorsey flatly denied it. More than a year later, we learned from a prepared testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism by Twitter’s acting general counsel Sean J. Edgett that this was completely false and Twitter had indeed been doing exactly that to protect the interests of US political structures by sheltering the public from information allegedly gathered by Russian hackers.

And indeed, @wikileaks, @assangedefence, @wltaskforce, and @assangelegal are as of this writing so aggressively shadow banned that an advanced search for tweets by those accounts turns up not one single post by any of them.
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Twitter did eventually unfreeze the Wikileaks accounts, claiming "denial of service attack had been run against several WikiLeaks and Assange legal accounts to trigger looping security lockouts," but as highlighted before that update by Johnstone "Even if Twitter does end up restoring access to all or some of these accounts, the fact that the site would shut them down at all is deeply disturbing...."

Agreed.

REGULATE OR STRIP BIG TECH OF PROTECTIONS?

We have seen two different arguments over how to rein in big techs data invasions and consership practices, abusing their platforms' powers, one side pushing for the regulation of companies by treating them as utilities and a modern day public square.

There are persuasive arguments on both sides of the regulation proposals, both for and against. One of the arguments against regulation is that in a free market society, users should be the ones to "punish" big tech for their abuse of powers, their selling of private personal data they were trusted with, some argue. Government interference generally makes matters worse, not better. One of the arguments on the side of regulating big tech, comes from a Harvard report in September, which maintains that big tech companies seem to unable, and unwilling, to regulate themselves, to protect users data or to prevent their liberal bias from dictating what is censored and what is not.

Related: Big Tech is in the crosshairs of regulation

Many argue that as private companies they should be able to do whatever they want, despite the fact that courts have said that social media is a modern day public square where constitutional rights are applied.

That argument is valid, except for the fact that these "private companies," are extended special protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Law. Those liability immunity protections are not extended to news outlets nor to other websites. Those protections are predicated on these big tech companies providing third party content, without editorial control, therefore they are not "publishers," they are simply a service that offers "a forum for a true diversity of political discourse, unique opportunities for cultural development, and myriad avenues for intellectual activity."

Some argue that by applying their censorship in a biased manner, rather than with a set standard independent of political ideology, they are acting as publishers, therefore they should be held responsible for the content on their platforms because they are practicing editorial control.

Representative Louie Gohmert has introduced a bill, H.R.7363, that would remove the liability protections from social media companies, and perhaps video platforms like YouTube.

On December 20, 2018, Gohmert issues the following statement on his congressional website, under the headline "Gohmert Introduces Bill That Removes Liability Protections for Social Media Companies That Use Algorithms to Hide, Promote, or Filter User Content."

“Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google are now among the largest and most powerful companies in the world. More and more people are turning to a social media platform for news than ever before, arguably making these companies more powerful than traditional media outlets. Yet, social media companies enjoy special legal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, protections not shared by other media. Instead of acting like the neutral platforms they claim to be in order obtain their immunity, these companies have turned Section 230 into a license to potentially defraud and defame with impunity.”

“Representatives of social media companies have testified in Congressional hearings that they do not discriminate against or filter out conservative voices on their platforms. But for all their reassurances, the disturbing trend continues unabated. Employees from some of these companies have communicated their disgust for conservatives and discussed ways to use social media platforms and algorithms to silence and prevent income to conservatives.”

“In one hearing, one of the internet social media executives indicated a desire to be treated like Fox News. Fox News does not have their immunity and this bill will fulfill that unwitting request. Since there still appears to be no sincere effort to stop this disconcerting behavior, it is time for social media companies to be liable for any biased and unethical impropriety of their employees as any other media company. If these companies want to continue to act like a biased medium and publish their own agendas to the detriment of others, they need to be held accountable.”
Call me cynical but Republicans have had control of the House of Representatives for the last two years and could have offered this type of proposed legislation much earlier, when there may have been a chance to get it passed, but to offer it now when the House is about to come under Democratic control, appears to be more of a "gesture," than legislation that has a chance of passing as is.

The good news is that big tech has come under fire from both Republicans and Democrats, albeit for different reasons, but the ire coming from both sides of the political aisle against big tech, may be enough for them to find some type of compromise.

They need to figure out something fast as the majority of the general public now backs calls for regulation, which could do more harm than good, depending on what that regulation entails.

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Interestingly, there does seem to be a third option. Rather than the federal government getting involved, or stripping big techs liability immunity on a federal level, a new proposal in Arkansas, called the "Stop Social Media Censorship Act,"  would allow civil legal action against social media giants that "delete or censor" content posted by users.

 The bill would be applied to social media sites with at least 75 million users, and allows a minimum civil damage fine of $75,000 for each post that's removed or censored through an algorithm or other means. Under the bill, social media sites are considered a public utility.

Although the bill does seem to need some tweaking, as to where those operating the sites live and how it is applied, it is a third option which would negate federal interference, so it is something to keep our eyes on and to see if any other state moves towards the same type of legislation.

BOTTOM LINE

Silicon Valley has not had a good year and while Facebook has brought much of the extra scrutiny to the world of big tech, Google, YouTube and Twitter have also faced their share of criticisms during demand performances in front of Congress, where frankly they attempted to "justify" and deny their actions rather than offering options to fix the mistakes they have made, via their censorship practices.

With both Republicans and Democrats, politicians and general users, frustrated and gunning for them for a variety of reasons, it looks like 2019 is going to be a year of reckoning for big tech.

As well it should be.

In the first video below, Douglas Murray discusses how liberals in big tech are starting to eat their own, and in the second video, we see that Arkansas is proposing legislation that would fine companies that have tens of millions of users, for every political or religious post they remove or censor.






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