Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Cloudflare, and then Vox, both double-slam FOSTA as a virus likely to destroy Section 230 and Internet user generated content

Recently, Vice reported that Cloudflare – which, remember, in a fit of virtue signaling, had banned Daily Stormer in August after Charlottesville and which pretty much got that alt-right site blackballed – now has banned “switter”, an Australian “dating” site, out of fears of the downstream liability risks from FOSTA. 

Furthermore, after an initial vague statement about TOS, Cloudflare said that the Internet is a little less free than it was because of unintended consequences, and that Congress, under political pressure, was willing to ask for some sacrifice from the elitist know-it-alls to protect the “people”.  Cloudflare especially said that Congress is lazy about understanding Internet “infrastructure.”
It’s notable that Cloudflare took this action against a company that operates out of Australia based on US laws. Imagine the parallels. 

Then Vox came along, April 23, with a double-header on the threat to Section 230.  The “nightcap” was an article by Emily Stewart, “The next big battle over Internet freedom is here”.  The obvious question, which will boil for the next “two to five” years, will be downstream liability over other dangerous issues:  terror recruiting, weapons information, fake news (itself obviously potential libel), revenge porn and cyber stalking, as well as “misuse” of consumer data.  (Targeting group-centric “hate speech” might be harder because of the way the First Amendment is set up, but Europe already does that.) But the “afternoon game” had been a Vox explainer by Aja Romano is titled more stridently, “A new law intended to curb sex trafficking threatens the future of the Internet as we know it.”  Romano notes that some groups want to take this further into areas like pornography addiction and degradation of women.

One aspect of the discussion that seems to be missing:  different providers do different things and have widely varying degrees of downstream risk, at least to sex trafficking promotion.  Websites that cater to personal needs obviously would have the highest risk.  Hosting services (which websites use but which readers don’t directly log on to) would have mathematically much lower risks, as would CDN’s like Cloudflare and SiteLock. Social media would have higher risks, but already have become proactive in screening a lot of content with artificial intelligence (which Facebook and YouTube, despite all their controversy, are getting better at). The same holds for parallel problems in the copyright world (covered by a different set of laws – DMCA Safe Harbor).  

I could back up and restart a discussion of personal moral philosophy, about the “privilege of being listened to”, as I have in my books.  No doubt, user generated content (like mine) can hold big media and politicians honest, but the weakness of this argument seems to be rooted in the obvious history, that until the mid 1990s at the earliest, you generally couldn’t publish yourself “to the world” unless the publication could pay for itself, and we got along and survived Vietnam, Nixon, and got as far as starting to debate gays in the military in old fashioned media, before the Internet suddenly gave us all a new voice.

No doubt, though, asymmetric individual speech can weaken group-based conventional activism, as well as, with some speakers, exacerbate social tensions over inequality – at least through the hypocrisy which others can pick up on.

We’re starting to see why authoritarian societies, even milder ones (like Singapore) believe they have to collar individualized speech to maintain public safety. 

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