Smaller Websites Nervous Over Giant Facebook’s Support for Liability Reform

Smaller Websites Nervous Over Giant Facebook’s Support for Liability Reform

2020-12-24 06:00:44
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Facebook Inc. says it's time to reconsider the legal immunity that protects it from lawsuits over what users post online, a position that makes smaller websites worry about the cost of accepting more responsibility for what appears on their platforms.

The social media giant was prominent in the Washington debate over the liability shield in section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which may be the subject of a US Federal Communications Commission proposal starting Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, President Donald Trump is expected to veto a bill in part because lawmakers refused to include a withdrawal of the protections. Congress plans to override the veto, but lawmakers have said they want to tackle the liability shield in the coming term.

At the same time, Facebook was at the forefront of the issue, with ads saying, "We want updated Internet rules to set clear guidelines for tackling today's biggest challenges."

That makes small and medium businesses such as Etsy Inc. and Tripadvisor Inc. nervous. Facebook can afford extensive content moderation, backed by legions of lawyers, if Congress weakens the shield. Not the smaller companies, they say.

"The Hill is focused on addressing Big Tech's alleged abuse or waiver of responsibility, but one-size-fits-all policies may actually encourage those larger platforms at the expense of smaller and mid-sized platforms like Etsy," said Jeffrey Zubricki, president of relations with the US government at the company.

Etsy and other midsize businesses announced a coalition called Internet Works on December 15, formed in recognition that the debate over the liability determination will continue in the board of Democratic President Joe Biden.

There is "a real myopia among lawmakers to think only of Facebook and Google" when they consider bills to tackle online hosting, said Emma Llanso, director of the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a policy group. "That's a real concern for smaller websites and applications because they don't have the resources that these larger companies have."

The FCC could deliver the first blow to protecting Section 230, as it proposes a reinterpretation of the rules Trump claims should be eliminated altogether. A vote on the proposal was due to take place next month, in the waning days of Republican control of the committee.

Tripadvisor, which provides traveler reviews of their experiences, has advised the FCC that it needs protections provided by law to ensure the integrity of posts on its website. Nearly one in 20 user posts offered in 2018 were rejected due to issues such as irrelevant, biased, or fake, the company said.

"Review websites such as Tripadvisor can easily become nothing more than just positive advertising images" because "hosting critical or negative opinions would pose a significant risk of legal liability," the company said in a statement. Submit.

Speed ​​and transparency

Etsy is working to maintain its status as a marketplace for unique goods. In 2019, it removed or disabled access to more than 470,000 listings from nearly 97,000 sellers who fell short of community standards that require items to be made by hand, according to the company's annual transparency report.

The company "will advocate policies that protect our ability to operate an open market and provide economic opportunities to our 3.7 million sellers around the world," Zubricki said in a statement.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive officer, told lawmakers in October that he supports Article 230 reforms, saying that "Congress needs to update the law to make sure it works as intended."

Zuckerberg has insisted that companies be regulated for their speed and transparency in removing illegal content. Handily, Facebook is already publishing a report on its artificial intelligence removals, revealing what percentage of the time the company is able to detect and remove content like hateful language and nudity before others see it. He said such a report was an example of what all companies could offer.

Warning from Google Chief

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google parent company Alphabet Inc., has warned of legislative changes. In an October appearance before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Pichai asked lawmakers "to be very attentive to any changes to section 230 and to be very aware of the impact these changes could have on businesses and customers."

"We all share the same goal: free access to information for everyone and responsible protection of people and their data," said Pichai. "We support legal frameworks that achieve these goals."

Jon Berroya, interim president and chief executive officer of the Internet Association, which includes Google and Facebook among its members, said in a statement that the trade group is "committed to working productively with Congress and the Biden administration." The discussion includes "ways to address serious challenges without undermining this important law," Berroya said.

Twitter Inc., less wealthy than Facebook or Alphabet, remains wary.

"Unknowingly anchoring the dominant companies through regulations that only they can comply with – and by extension harm American innovation and global competition – should be avoided at all costs," said Lauren Culbertson, chief of US government policy for the company .

Congress has not come together on a single proposal. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have increasingly sought changes to the provision.

Democrats are highlighting concerns about election misinformation, faulty products, weapons, online scams and other content that is left behind. Both sides have criticized the proliferation of online sexual abuse, especially against children, and drugs.

Republicans suggest that the companies' ability to remove content allows for conservative censorship – something the social media sites say they don't.

–With the help of Kurt Wagner and Sarah Frier.

Copyright 2020 Bloomberg.

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