Friday, March 23, 2018

Craigslist and Reddit react to FOSTA; could some sort of mandatory reinsurance or bonding of speakers be coming to tech companies and users?

The first signs of reaction from the whole tech community to the quick passage of FOSTA/SESTA Wednesday during a snowstorm, and while the media was distracted by Facebook, came this morning when Craigslist told users it was eliminating personals. 
Craigslist was quite blunt that it saw the law as an existential threat to its type of business. 
Likewise Reddit eliminated some subreddits, including some related to weapons (not directly to prostitution) on the theory that SESTA-like laws regarding guns or weapons manufacture are coming down the pike.
 Ars Technica reports here (Cyrus Darivar).  The Verge (Vox), in a story by Thuy Ong, notes that some kinds of flirts were eliminated by Craigslist, including missed connections and glances, which are somewhat common on print gay papers.  I have certainly had “glances” on the Metro  (one in Sept. 2014 comes to mind particularly), but would never really want to follow up online.   Esquire also sums up the CDA230 problem.
I’ve also noted in the recent fallout from Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, that the media discussion has been attacking Facebook’s practice of financially leveraging not only user information (likes, etc) for ads and “research”, but also the content itself.  The combination of new pressures on Section 230, DMCA (a few years after the SOPA battle), and the most of all, the idea that the Internet is flooded with spammy or fake “self-published” content, often generated by foreign bots, and often targeting less educated user groups, raises the idea of wanting regulate or hinder self-publishing as a whole.  Certainly the business models that have facilitated it for twenty years could become unsustainable under these pressures.  (CNN used the derogatory phrase of some bloggers “punching above their weight”, as if CNN itself were worried about a lower cost competition  -- Monday’s “Hollywood” post.)
The sex trafficking problem sounds relatively easy to isolate, certainly in the minds of those in Congress who voted for it overwhelmingly.  But surely a lot of other problems, especially having to do with terrorism and weapons (as Reddit and Youtube already expect), will come under similar attention in the next year.  In general, it will be much risker, in terms of downstream liability risk, for any but the largest businesses to host user-generated content in the future than it has been, and with ad revenue getting difficult (and with the new chaos over data “breaches” as with Facebook), it will be much harder for business models to support them.  We should not overlook that in this mix there are also some rather come arcane legal concerns over election campaigns and “indirect” donations by bloggers that had surfaced back around 2005 and have since been forgotten – here the lack of transparency of how content, even like mine, is paid for behind the scenes when it seems “free” to users could become legally important . Imagine if every blog had to provide a public CPA statement.
One could look to the insurance industry (with my twelve years in it) for ideas.  Reinsurance has been suggested (as by Susan Collins) as a way to fix the problems with Obamacare (or even replacing it).  A reinsurance idea could be proposed for tech liability, I suppose.  As I joked on Twitter today, I may sound like Jonathan Swift in making such a “modest proposal”, only to see somebody introducing it in Congress soon.  A corollary idea, particularly “Dangerous” (to borrow Milo Yionnapoulos’s trademark) would be to require speakers to have their own insurance or be bonded somehow.  (AUP’s of many hosting providers require indemnification by customers, but this has hardly ever been enforced.)  This follows on to a blog post here March 16, which referred to some commentary on Reason by “the Volokh Conspiracy” essentially on umbrella insurance today.  The insurance business is not set up very well to underwrite this kind of risk properly right now, and I think it has been approached in the property-casualty world carelessly with little attention to how the Internet works (familiar?)  There have been sporadic attempts to provide bloggers effective insurance, by NWU back in 2001, and then again in 2008 (ironically, just before the financial crisis), but as far as I know this has not worked very well.  But the idea sounds bound to come back again now. 

Update:  March 24

Rolling Stone reports on the effect of FOSTA on sex workers.   The site Cityvibe was suddenly closed, as I verified. You get the impression of just how politically motivated this legislation is. 

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