The One Internet Hack That Could Save Everything

The impact on the public sphere has been considerable, to say the least. By removing so many responsibilities, Section 230 put forward a certain type of business plan, based not on information only available from a given service, but on the paid arbitrage of access and influence. So we ended up with the misleadingly named “advertising” business model – and an entire society immersed in a 24/7 competition for attention. A polarized social media ecosystem. Recommendation algorithms that mediate content and optimize engagement. We've learned that humans are most engaged, at least from an algorithm's perspective, by rapid emotions related to fight-or-flight responses and other high-stakes interactions. By allowing the privatization of the public square, Article 230 has inadvertently made deliberation impossible between citizens who are supposed to be equal before the law. Perverse incentives promote grumpy speech, which effectively suppresses thoughtful speech.

And then there is the economic imbalance. Internet platforms that rely on Section 230 tend to harvest personal data for their commercial purposes without appropriate compensation. Even when data must be protected or prohibited by copyright or other method, Section 230 often imposes liability on the infringed party by requiring takedown notices. This change in the order of liability events is comparable to the difference between opt-in and opt-out in privacy. This may seem like a technicality, but it is actually a huge difference that results in substantial harm. For example, workers in information-related industries, such as local news, have seen their economic success and prestige decline sharply. Section 230 makes a world of data dignity functionally impossible.

Until now, content moderation has too often been reliant on seeking attention and engagement, routinely ignoring the company's stated terms of service. Rules are often bent to maximize engagement through inflammation, which can harm personal and societal well-being. The excuse is that it's not censorship, but is it really not? Arbitrary rules, doxing practices, and cancel culture have led to something difficult to distinguish from censorship reserved for sober, well-meaning people. At the same time, amplifying inflammatory free speech for bad actors encourages mob rule. This all takes place under the Section 230 liability shield, which effectively gives tech companies carte blanche for a short-sighted version of self-serving behavior. Contempt for these companies – which have found a way to be more than carriers, without actually being publishers – is the one thing everyone seems to agree on in America now.

Negotiate a known because the unknown is always terrifying, especially for those who have the most to lose. Since at least some of the network effects of Section 230 were anticipated from its inception, there should have been a sunset clause. He does not have. Rather than focusing exclusively on the disruption that removing 26 words would cause, it is useful to consider the potential positive effects. When we imagine a post-230 world, we discover something surprising: a world of hope and renewal worth inhabiting.

In a sense, this is already happening. Some companies are taking steps on their own now toward a post-230 future. YouTube, for example, is diligently creating alternative revenue streams to advertising, and top creators have more options for making money. Together, these voluntary approaches suggest a different self-concept, closer to that of an editor. YouTube is ready for the post-230 era, it seems. (On the other hand, a company like someone seizes private information, there are laws. to protect it in certain cases. This means, for example, that dating sites have the option to charge fees instead of relying on a 230-style business model. The existence of these exceptions suggests that more examples would appear in a post-230 world. 230.

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