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I'm surprised that you forgot the flip side of the social media censorship problem. There were lots of kudos in Washington for Twitter and Facebook when they were the platform that enabled the start of the Arab spring uprisings. But, one man's freedom fighters are another man's terrorists . . . which is exactly why we shouldn't let tech executives [or our government] decide who's not allowed to speak.

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Matt; the censorship you’re decrying is not new but has been going on for quite awhile:

https://jilliancyork.com/2021/01/10/everything-pundits-are-getting-wrong-about-this-moment-in-platform-regulation-an-ongoing-list/

Lefty sites having huge problems with bang, blocked, censored, canceled by Facebook in particular while sites promoting deranged right wing ideas — like nonexistent voter fraud to delegitimize an election — haven’t had any comparable problems, at least till enabling an act of violent sedition.

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I am happy to see Chopra keeping a place in the Biden administration. Restoring the power of the CFPB is a worthwhile endeavor and I hope that Chopra succeeds in the same way that he found success at the FTC. That said, I can't help but think this was a huge missed opportunity.

Removing Chopra from the FTC seems short sighted (to be polite). The commission will be losing his institutional knowledge and may perpetuate partisan infighting - something that I get the impression that Chopra was effectively managing. I will reserve judgement until I see Biden's FTC nominees. My cynical side isn't optimistic.

As always, thanks for your write-ups on these topics.

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While I do think there is a monopoly problem, in other respects readers should realize this type of story peddling to distinct groups is nothing new. The way engraver Theodore de Bry catered sensational depictions of Christopher Columbus to Protestant and Catholic audiences between 1590-1634 reminds me so much of the current discussion.

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-americas/british-colonies/colonial-period/a/inventing-america-for-europe-theodore-de-bry

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This is the right approach. We've got a clearly identified problem - a business model serving as a radicalization engine destroying our politics. Ergo, there's a clear solution: destroy said business model. We've even got a simple way to do it - repealing or modifying Section 230.

But do we have the political actors who have the will to do this? Repealing or modifying Section 230 is a major threat to Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Specifically, it's a threat to their profits.

And, as Glenn Greenwald has illustrated, there's the potential of a War on Domestic Terror brewing. Imagine the law enforcement, defense, and intelligence contracts!

I'm nervous we may spend a long time doing the wrong thing before we ever get to doing the obvious (and simple!) thing.

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Lol this is peak galaxy brain:

"violent riots to overturn elections are a red line. And yet who draws these lines?"

Inciting mass violence to overthrow democratic rule as a red line - "that's just your opinion, man!"

I'm sympathetic to Stoller's point about Section 230, but sophomoric relativism around an antidemocratic putsch is peak stupid.

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author

I think that's just weak writing on my part. The point is about governance, not which behavior is and isn't acceptable. Someone has to enforce the rules against that kind of behavior. Stamos is saying big tech should do so, I think public institutions should.

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Jan 19, 2021Liked by Matt Stoller

Thank you, that's a very different prospect.

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founding

That's what I understood you to mean. (But "galaxy brain" -- ha! I'll have to use that.)

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There is a typo at the beginning of the 5th paragraph: "This bans aren’t crazy."

As I read it, you paint a homogenizing picture of the right - equating effectively all DJT supporters and/or conservative viewpoints as being innately insurrectionist or backing the capitol riots. I think this undermines a bit of your point that tech gets to arbitrarily draw the line in the sand around appropriate speech and (dis)information... the issue that is at stake for you is that private institutions are able to draw the line and not public ones.

This disconcerts me because the issue of free speech and determination of gatekeepers for it shouldn’t be a public/private debate. Do we really want unelected bureaucrats controlling speech? There is at least more collective oversight through market forces than there are through anonymous agency suits. The fundamental issue around disinformation and polarization seems to be more so a level of scale and reach of tech giants – which you certainly have an appreciation for. Perhaps simply limiting their reach/breaking up monopolies would be enough. It completely rubs me the wrong way to put more control over speech into the hands of government.

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I want to move back to flyover country where I can afford some land, and my spouse won't suffer from allergies.

It's easier and less confusing to say "flyover country" than "the midwest and inland north south".

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Wouldn't repealing Section 230, or reforming it as you outlined, mean the end of free social media sites? I don't mean to suggest ending social media as we known it is a bad thing. I'm just curious if this is the outcome you think is necessary

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https://www.vox.com/recode/2021/1/22/22244186/lina-khan-ftc-commissioner-antitrust-rohit-chopra-biden-administration

"Amazon's Antitrust Paradox" was the first thing I read after I finished your book. Is this possible/ as promising as it seems?

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founding

Unless we're going to rescind Section 230 altogether, which I don't know that I would support, I think we need to figure out exactly how we think it should be modified.

It will always be possible -- at least, I think it _should_ always be possible, in a free society -- for anyone to set up a Web site and publish whatever they want. I support Section 230's protection for the ISPs who rent them the server and carry the traffic. The question is, how does publishing on Facebook differ from this? And the answer seems to be that Facebook's systems look at what they've posted and try to guess what other users will be interested in it, and then shows it to those users.

And the interesting thing to me about that is that it is adding information. No, Facebook isn't generating the words and images that go into that content, but they are selecting the content items that go into each user's feed. In that sense they are providing information: information about which of the zillions of content items out there are likely to be of interest to each user.

Given that, to the extent that Section 230 has been interpreted to protect them from liability, I'm not even sure I agree with that interpretation. I think a good case could be made that the language permits them to be sued for the behavior of their algorithms. I guess the existing case law doesn't support that reading, and I would be glad to see Congress clarify the point. But it doesn't seem like a very big change -- which I think is good news, because a larger change is likely to run afoul of free speech considerations.

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Big tech firms drawing lines assaults self-government? What about when big media firms do it?

Government regulation used to set content standards through the FTC and regulations like the Fairness Doctrine. The reason for that intrusion---technical limitations on the number of radio stations and TV channels---no longer exists. Even media platforms without those limitations, like newspapers, censored certain content and sanitized the rest, to maximize the readership they could offer to ad buyers.

There is simply nothing new about the US letting market competition decide which platforms are mass-market, which are partisan or otherwise niche, and what each of those chooses to publish. That's the "marketplace of ideas". Applying antitrust laws to promote competition within that marketplace didn't attack the idea that competition, not government standards or mandated neutrality, would drive editorial policy. It didn't privilege some business models, like subscriptions, over others, like ads.

Have a look at the case law about the speech torts as applied to non-Internet companies. It's not as simple as newspapers get held liable and Facebook doesn't. There was concern it might be, based on one or two cases in the 1990s that caught legislative attention and led to Section 230. It wasn't just what one or two courts did that troubled them. It was uncertainty about what courts might do, and how long it would take them to be clear about it.

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The point here, I think, is that neither the tech firm nor the media firm should be big enough to have the power to do it.

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It is intensely difficult to navigate through the thicket created when principle conflicts with reality. We are dealing now with the kind of considerations that comprise nations, civilizations, religions, a people, or, should we err in this difficult task, destroy them. Beyond the policy recommendations, I appreciate this newsletter's occasional acknowledgement of the Lucretian distinctions that need to be made, though these can seem confounding, if we are to comprehend precisely what these forces are and how they are distinct.

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