Monday, January 11, 2021

Two different models for regulating social media giants, explained. Listen to Alan Dershowitz about Online Free Speech.

 By Tom Forrest


I become very unhappy with all these socialist Democrats that write about why evil Facebook, Twitter, and Google should not be regulated.

The socialist/Marxist Democrats like to mix in facts with their Leftard bullshit.

They think it gives them some credibility to use the facts, then sprinkle their socialist lies on top of the facts. 

Vox.com, BusinessInsider.com, TechDirt.com are some of the worst offenders of truth seekers like me.  TechDirt just makes up blatant lies.


The specter of monopoly

To USA Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, the current government regulations and laws may be fine for small retail stores. 
However Facebook, as he tweeted on October 15, “is a lot like a supermarket ... except there’s only ONE supermarket in town, and they decide who can and can’t shop.

That’s what we call a monopoly.”


Senator Hawley is correct that Facebook’s decision-making is not on par with that of a neighborhood retailer or even a large retail chain. Facebook is simply a really big company. Big enough that its decisions are a matter of public concern.
In 2017 and 2018, for example, it tweaked its newsfeed algorithm to reduce the quantity and prominence of political news. As Will Oremus reported, 
this had a huge impact on the media business: “Traffic from Facebook plummeted a staggering 87 percent, from a January 2017 peak of 28 million to less than 4 million in May 2018. It’s down more than 55 percent in 2018 alone.”




The United States has traditionally subjected communications technology to regulatory standards that go beyond market efficiency because they are seen as having particular social importance.

But the question for those who’d regulate social media is: What are they trying to achieve?

Social media as Ma Bell

If you go back to the “classic” era of American communication technology in the third quarter of the 20th century, you see two very different types of regulatory standards applied to two different technologies. 

There’s the model used to regulate telephone companies, most of all AT&T, and there’s the model used to regulate the big three broadcast television networks.

Both were cases of industries with sharply limited competition and great social importance that led to a widespread sense that you can’t just “leave it up to the market” the way you would with a newsstand.

Phone companies were (and, to the extent that they are operating as phone companies, still are) required to act as “dumb pipes.” They carry audio from one phone to another, no questions asked.

  • You can curse on the phone, engage in lewd or pornographic talk, slander people, harass them, shout racial slurs, or otherwise do whatever you want and the phone company has zero liability for your actions.
  • Not only can phone companies get away with letting you do that stuff on the phone, they are legally required to so do. The phone company does not listen in on calls or disfavor bad or undesirable transmissions.
  • If a mafia boss orders a dozen murders via coded messages delivered over the phone, that’s not the phone company’s problem. The government can, with a warrant, bug his phone. And if they catch him, he goes to jail. But the phone company is fine.
  • This extends beyond government regulation to the sphere of social convention. Journalists don’t write stories about how “extremist groups are using phone calls to recruit members and organize events.” It would be like blaming paper companies for letting extremists use paper to take notes.
  • The entire “net neutrality” debate is in large part about whether broadband internet service providers (which include classic phone companies like AT&T and Verizon as well as what you traditionally would have called cable companies like Comcast) should be required to act as dumb pipes.

    Under FCC Chair Ajit Pai, net neutrality rules are not in place. Companies thus far have taken advantage of non-neutrality mainly to do things like tell you that you have gotten unlimited data and then throttle streaming video unless you pay extra. Or they will make special deals with particular services (Verizon has one with Disney right now, and T-Mobile with Netflix) to give you certain things at a discount. In debates on the issue, net neutrality proponents often told scare stories about ISPs censoring or throttling disfavored websites, and so far that hasn’t happened. But under the regulatory framework Republicans have created, it could.

    Once upon a time, both Facebook and Twitter did more or less work as dumb pipes. You picked who you followed, and the services then displayed whatever the people you follow posted, in order. But that is no longer the case — algorithms on the services determine what you see.

    E.J. Fagan, a political scientist at the University of Illinois Chicago, argues the federal government should incentive the dumb-pipe approach by changing the liability rule so that “when a platform makes decisions about what user-generated content a user sees,” the platform itself is legally responsible for the content, like a newspaper or magazine would be if they printed it.

    An alternate regulatory concept might take inspiration from the other major communications framework: broadcast television.

    Social media as broadcast television

    Television antennas can’t get a clear signal if more than one person is trying to broadcast on the same frequency in a given geographical area. Consequently, the existence of the television industry before the rise of cable was predicated on government-granted monopoly rights to the use of certain frequencies in certain areas.

    This created a rationale for regulating the airwaves in a much more stringent way than the First Amendment would permit for print periodicals or movies where there’s no natural scarcity in the distribution channel.

    Through a variety of formal and informal means, that regulatory framework led to the Big Three television networks making programming decisions that leaned overwhelmingly in the direction of being bland and inoffensive.
    There were no opinionated news shows, no edgy ideas, and most of the content was light-hearted entertainment that leaned heavily in the direction of vanilla inoffensiveness.

    Either regulatory future, or even both, is certainly possible for social media. But to get there, policymakers would need to be clearer and more consistent about what they’re asking for, and think about "model" principles rather than just yelling about individual cases.


    My Post on Parler


    Listen to Alan Dershowitz about Online Free Speech and the 2020 Election results.

-- Tom Forrest USA GotoTom Sunday, December 13, 2020