Four years before the end of the Second Millennium (OK, that’s 1996), Congress passed the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which was signed into law by then-President, Bill Clinton. The goal of the legislation was to regulate pornographic material on the Internet. However, in 1997, in the landmark case of Reno v ACLU, the United States Supreme Court struck down the anti-indecency provisions of the Act. The Act was Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, introduced to the senate Committee of Commerce, Science, and Transportation by Senators James Exon (D-NE) and Slade Gorton (R-WA).
Once passed by Congress, Title V’s main influence was in two areas: attempting to regulate indecency (as and when available to children); and obscenity in cyberspace. The interpretation of this portion of Title V, known as Section 230, is widely accepted as exculpating operators of Internet services from legal responsibility for the words of third parties that use their services, and that these Internet services would not be construed as being publishers of that content. Section 230 was, and is still, heralded as a cornerstone of free speech on the Internet. However, right now, this couldn’t be further from the truth in a very interesting twist of fate. That’s key to the point of this blog. Essentially, NO Internet service provider, not Facebook, not Twitter, nor any other provider, or social media service are obligated to take any responsibility, or be accountable for any information that they post, or that their users post.
In retrospect, and based on the fact that sexual exploitation of potentially unwitting victims is a human rights violation, this was probably a very good idea, but enough of the ancient history lesson. So let’s move forward…
What few anticipated, or even imagined, is that the power of the Internet for doing good, would also be equivalent to its power for evil doing. There are likely no parties, or state actors that are without blame, including the USA, but it seems to me that other than the Russians (who rank high on the scale of disinformation and hacking) the biggest culprits right now are the Internet providers and Social Media services that continue to allow bots and false account owners to post untrue, misleading and manipulative content. This is a supreme disservice to their real constituents and customers, which far outnumber those in the hacking community that continue to create false identities and accounts for the purpose of spreading disinformation and sowing the seeds of division in this and other countries. It’s time for us to end this practice. It’s time for Internet services to do a better job of policing their own sites, and start removing more aggressively content that is inaccurate, and false.