Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Frances Haugen is kicking Congress into gear on 230 reform

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Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified for the second time earlier than Congress on Wednesday. But as a substitute of explaining Facebook’s harms, Haugen supplied steering on how one can repair the issues the platform created.

Specifically, House lawmakers on the Energy and Commerce Committee requested Haugen’s enter on a slew of just lately launched measures to reform tech’s controversial authorized legal responsibility defend beneath Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Both Republicans and Democrats have a stake within the recreation, however their deep divides over what sort of on-line content material ought to keep up or down has stalled any likelihood of pushing reforms.

But House Democrats are extra optimistic now than ever of their skills to clamp down on hate speech and dangerous content material. In an interview on Wednesday, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) mentioned that Congress’ work to control tech was largely paused resulting from its work in passing President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. “We had to deal with infrastructure,” Malinowski mentioned. “Today’s hearing is a signal that the 230 reform will likely be on our agenda through next year.”

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) echoed Malinowski’s enthusiasm in an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday. “The fact that this has been discussed and debated and [we’ve] had hearings ad nauseam and Congress has not acted is not acceptable to me,” Doyle mentioned. “So my goal at this hearing is to start moving legislation forward.”

Wednesday’s listening to paired its high-profile witness, Haugen, with 4 Democratic proposals to vary Section 230. These payments, like Malinowski’s Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act, present extra focused modifications to the legislation than lots of the proposals that come earlier than them — primarily of their focus on algorithmic amplification of dangerous content material.

“There’s a growing realization that the algorithms are the problem,” Malinowski advised The Verge in an interview on Wednesday. “Through their recommendation algorithms, the social media companies have created a perfect machine for driving people to political extremes and even to violence.”

Committee leaders, together with Doyle and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), are betting on a bipartisan outrage over algorithms to assist them go moderation reform over the following few months. In his opening remarks, Doyle identified that Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), the highest Republican on the subcommittee, issued a dialogue draft that will take away platform immunity for amplification earlier this 12 months. Without Republican assist, any 230 reforms would doubtless be lifeless within the water when handed off to the Senate, and its razor skinny Democratic majority, for approval.

“There’s a bipartisan desire to reform the courts’ interpretation of Section 230,” Doyle mentioned on Wednesday. “And the American public wants to see us get things done.”

Still, some civil rights activists worry that any modifications to Section 230, together with these focusing on algorithmic amplification, may trigger extra hurt than good.

“We don’t want to chill amplification that is benign or beneficial, but also don’t want to prevent accountability when platforms’ actions cause harm even in the absence of personalized recommendations, or outside of carve-outs for important subjects like civil rights,” Matt Wood, Free Press Action vp and common counsel, mentioned at Wednesday’s listening to.

Other activists worry Congress could also be shifting too quick and with out correctly contemplating the implications for weak communities once they final modified the legislation. After Trump signed SESTA / FOSTA in 2018, intercourse employees have been pressured off web sites like Backpage.com the place they screened purchasers, regardless of the invoice’s acknowledged goal to fight sex-trafficking.

“It’s irresponsible and unconscionable for lawmakers to rush toward further changes to Section 230 while actively ignoring human rights experts and the communities that were most impacted by the last major change to Section 230,” mentioned Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future. “The last misguided legislation that changed Section 230 got people killed. Congress needs to do its due diligence and legislate responsibly. Lives are at stake.”

The committee plans to carry a second listening to subsequent week because it ramps up its efforts to go significant reforms.

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