Reality 2.0 Newsletter - October 27, 2020: Should Social Media Be Regulated?

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A Quick Plug

In this week’s episode, Doc Searls, Katherine Druckman, and Petros Koutoupis attempt to uncover problems with social media and, by extension, journalism. We discuss recent attempts to reinterpret section 230 of the Communications Act, which was passed into law by the 1996 Communications Decency Act, and how that may affect social media and its relationship to journalism. We hope you’ll check it out and join the discussion. Please remember to subscribe via the podcast player of your choice.

Episode 45: Social Media Regulation and Journalism

But First You Must Define the Problem

We find the issues of social media regulation and ad tech’s negative impact on journalism to be somewhat intertwined. Traditional news sites rely heavily on inbound traffic funneled through the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other large social media intermediaries, and while they ultimately deliver the traffic, they take a chunk of advertising revenue along the way. Matt Stoller argues this relationship harms our democracy by delivering a financial blow to legitimate journalism, while allowing low-quality content to flourish.

[P]hony Facebook pages illustrate the crisis of the free press and democracy: Advertising revenue that used to go to quality journalism is now captured by big tech intermediaries, and some of that money now goes to dishonest, low-quality and fraudulent content.

Some have argued that the role of social networks like Facebook and Twitter has become less of a neutral go-between, and more of a curator, thus significantly impacting the habits of both publisher and reader. This controversy has led politicians to question the liability protections afforded internet platforms in Section 230 of the Communications Act.

It is important to understand both the intended and actual functions of social networks, ad tech, and journalism so as not to confuse them, especially in the current political climate. In this week’s episode, we attempt to unpack some of these ideas, initiated in part by the short reading list we’ve included here.

We don’t view our podcast as a source of answers, but rather as a source of inspiration for further discussion, so, to that end, we invite you to draw your own conclusions and join the conversation by commenting here on this post, by visiting us on any of our social outlets, or via our contact form.

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This Week’s Reading List

FCC chairman says he'll seek to regulate social media under Trump's executive order - CNN — The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will draft regulations intended for social media companies following a petition earlier this year by the Trump administration, the agency's chairman said Thursday. In a tweet, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai indicated he will move forward with a rulemaking to "clarify" Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, which currently acts as a legal shield for tech companies' handling of user generated content.

Opinion | Tech Companies Are Destroying Democracy and the Free Press - The New York Times — Ad revenue that used to support journalism is now captured by Google and Facebook, and some of that money supports and spreads fake news.

BIG by Matt Stoller - Matt Stoller is an author with an impressive political resume. Find more of his work in his Substack newsletter.

Tim Hwang - Subprime Attention Crisis — Tim Hwang is a writer and researcher based in New York. He is the author of Subprime Attention Crisis, a book about the bubble of online advertising. He is currently a research fellow at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) at Georgetown University.

Executive Order — Here is the full text of President Trump's executive order relating to social media, published by the White House on Thursday May 28, 2020.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act | Electronic Frontier Foundation — Tucked inside the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 is one of the most valuable tools for protecting freedom of expression and innovation on the Internet: Section 230.

Official Title 47 Section 230 PDF document — 230(c) - (1) Treatment of publisher or speaker No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

47 U.S. Code § 230 - Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material — Reference from Cornell Law.

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