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Regulate Facebook and Twitter? The Case Is Getting Stronger (bloomberg.com)
242 points by pseudolus 37 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 212 comments



I would definitely not want the government to be able to control what ideas/speech is allowed on these platforms and what isn't. Nor do I want a single entity (as Facebook/Twitter exist today) to have that control. What we need is more effective anti-trust legislation and enforcement, so that a number of platforms can coexist and compete even though there is a strong network effect to having a single platform.

I would also support laws requiring that these social media platforms a) protect consumers' data b) don't censor beyond what the law requires minimally. But it might be easier to go the competition route.


> I would definitely not want the government to be able to control what ideas/speech is allowed on these platforms and what isn't. Nor do I want a single entity (as Facebook/Twitter exist today) to have that control.

I have come to the admittedly sad conclusion that you can't reside in the middle here. I mean, you can idealistically, but slope will slide to one side or the other in practice. At least at this time I think you can ask for government interference or not. I would like to think that you could trust each side to know its boundaries, as we see in other regulated industries, but time has shown either side cannot. Which side would you want to give an inch to, because a mile will be taken (or according to some doomsayers it already has)?


The US government has censored the broadcast media(tv, radio) since their formation. So we do have some fairly solid evidence that the US government has not wildly abused that power.

I'm not sure this has to be an all or nothing thing. We have some reasonable protections built into the Constitution and case law that back that up.

I understand your hesitation about having the government involved as there are plenty of examples of government influence on the media around the world. I share the same fears.

With that said, do we really have any real world proof that the US government in recent years has over stepped its boundaries in regards to media restrictions?


We don't all publish TV content. We can see from retransmission fees for over-the-air content to the decimation of business models like Aereo what happens when content is governed. I see the Aereo business model as very similar to what's happening w/ article 13 in the EU right now.

But in general I don't think you can compare broadcast mediums to bidirectional ones (e.g. words on the telephone or text on the internet).


That's not really driven by the government so much as the media companies.


Big media companies have weaponized the government to serve their interests, it makes sense that social media companies will do the same.

They’ll write the rules together, make the barriers to entry even higher, and pat each other on the back.

Then it’s on to the next moral panic, this one’s been fixed!


Strongly disagree. The spectrum of transmission is regulated and parcelled out by the government, and it could be used differently. Indeed it is, with whitespace wifi devices. The battle over how many empty adjacent channels should be required for these devices is real, and ongoing. Take away the regulation and TV broadcasters lose. People who have televisions but no working knowledge of computers lose (if spending less time on the TV is a lose). People broadcasting to each other bi-directionally, over longer distances and through thicker obstacles than the current wifi bands allow, win hugely. The media companies are intertwined with the government, sure, but this is fundamentally a government problem.


The US government does have a history of cenorship - the banning of Henry Miller's novels and Wilhelm Reich's writing are the most prominent cases.

The US government hasn't censor broadcast media much given that most broadcast media owned by large corporations with ties to the state themselves.

And there's no reason that government wading into regulating Facebook could do anything remotely sane. A lot of Facebook's scandals have nothing to do with censorship and everything to do with filtering bias. When state agency is going to be qualified to regulate that?


But the internet is international - no local censorship is localized.

You won't want a random foreign government censor your speech.


The US does it all the time.

Why is okay when the US authorities shut down a site because of some bullshit DMCA violation that the rest of the world shouldn't be subject to?


> but time has shown either side cannot.

I wouldn't be so pessimistic. Off the top of my head, a number of industries are regulated / heavily regulated and thrive: media; air travel; automotive; transportation of dangerous goods; medicine / dental / veterinary; legal practice.


Industries want to be regulated. Regulation favors the big players and keeps out any newcomers.

The internet is now at the maturity level where it's ready to be locked down so Facebook, Google and maybe 1-2 other players can be cemented as the dominant players for decades to come through regulations ostensible there to stop them from becoming too powerful.

It's called "Regulatory Capture", and it's one of the most important concepts to understand to grasp how the modern world works.


Whoever was subject to EPA regulations clearly didn't want to be regulated, because the agency has been gutted during this administration.

Regulation is not as black and white as you are painting. Plenty of regulations do good things, because people can't be trusted to act with a social conscience when profit is their motive.


> Regulation is not as black and white as you are painting. Plenty of regulations do good things, because people can't be trusted to act with a social conscience when profit is their motive.

Indeed. I think the argument ventured is that it is burdensome to the point that only the big established players can bear


> Plenty of regulations do good things, because people can't be trusted to act with a social conscience when profit is their motive.

This is one of those sentences that sound logical, until you start thinking about it.

The fact that people sometimes do bad things in no way proves that regulations do good things. If anything, it's an indication that regulations might also be bad, since they are made by people.

Often the same people who are being regulated, believe it or not...


The alternative is no regulation, which I can't see ending up as anything other than a chaotic profit and power-seeking free-for all that does no favours for the average citizen that isn't part of the capitalist class.


Who do you think has the most influence on the regulations?

The powerful or the powerless?


This is such nonsense.

Some regulation can form regulatory capture, but other regulation can enforce an open, accessible marketplace.


Let's see how Facebook likes antitrust regulation.


I mentioned that other industries are successfully regulated (and many are unsuccessful, preventing inclusion by outsiders). I find the internet however so open a medium, regulating that data is like regulating what you can write, say on the phone, etc. We accept that there are downsides to openness on those fronts because we have chosen that tradeoff. I think the error is comparing it to something like air travel instead of comparing it to what you can write in a book. The more we use these analogies the more we strain to choose ones we like, and I personally liken internet data to writing something down due to ease and the sheer amount of people that can do it. Sure there are differences in reach, which is why it's incomparable.


I think regulating the internet, as you put it, is a different case than regulating these companies.

Facebook etc are more akin to broadcasters in terms of sharing ideas than they are akin to a telecom company offering communications infrastructure.

It’s not difficult to create a website to share the same ideas. In fact, it’s already done.

Openness is already there. Otherwise I agree.


I have come to the admittedly sad conclusion that you can't reside in the middle here. I mean, you can idealistically, but slope will slide to one side or the other in practice.

I don't see evidence that there is no middle ground here. Facebook and Google filter a lot of content. But that is filtering and not absolute control and there are significant other sources for those who want them.

State regulation would, however, produce a situation where everything remotely like a filter would be exposed to whatever regulation was implemented and that would in fact be a tremendous advantage for these same large players.


That filtering is not absolute control, but it is enough to control an election, consider these stats:

http://www.journalism.org/2018/09/10/news-use-across-social-...

Especially with 'AI-based filtering', which blurs the lines on what is filtered and why, these companies have both significant discretion and plausible deniability when it comes to censoring content.


Promoting the adoption of more than one platform might be done by forcing auditable federation of personal data -- with explicit user control and consent.


It won't help once you realize the people don't care and you can't make them care. It's not ignorance that's the problem either, it's intentional apathy. Until you can show a regular person how they are literally (i.e. not in some made-up tech way) harmed, they aren't going to concern themselves with it and rightfully so. If you make up harms or posit unproven or inapplicable-to-most harms, you will actually hurt your case by crying wolf instead of help it.


Maybe. Consider something though -

In South Africa Twitter is huge. In Germany, Facebook is. Instagram is big in the UK. Now take the possibly not unusual scenario in which a South African lives in London and has family in Germany.

Granpappy in Berlin would search for his grandson in London from Facebook but finds him on Instagram. He'd add the grandson as a friend and see the grandson's Instagram photos in his Facebook feed.

The South African guy in London searches Instagram for his nephew in South Africa, and finds him on Twitter. And sees that Twitter account's posts in Instagram.

If someone on Facebook finds me on Instagram, Instagram could notify me that Mr. X is searching for a profile that matches mine, and ask if I want to allow access to my stuff. If I decline he can't. Federation, with user control and consent.

I think it could work. And even if it was useful to a tiny monitory at least there's real choice. Inclusive of all.


It definitely could work, but who will make it work? I would really like to see my wife's facebook posts without having a facebook account (or just looking at her iPad which is what I currently do...) and she may be interested in my posts elsewhere.

I can see how it should be easy to send content from foo#twitter.com to bar#facebook.com as individual messages, format issues not withstanding, if foo and bar have agreed to correspond. But which end would manage the existence of that relationship and push/pull the data?

Maybe it needs third-party brokers to do it?

Interestingly I can see some parallels here with the current status of banking in the UK. After centuries of operation as "closed systems" there are now rules to force banks to provide APIs so that new entrants can offer inter-operation services. Maybe in a hundred years social-media companies will be forced to do the same? ;-)


In the context of the post's case for regulation - if that were indeed to happen then federation might be an approach.


Kodablah's point is not that it couldn't work technically, only that there's no public pressure to force them to implement it.

Also, such federation, if not open to third parties (easy to justify with spam, malicious parties, etc) can actually strengthen the current big platforms against competition.


My suggestion is in the context of regulation. Of course there's no incentive for social networks to do this of their own accord.


There actually is, probably to avoid the regulation in the first place: https://datatransferproject.dev/


That's a very interesting idea. And maybe this comes back to the notion of "lock-in" more broadly. That is, not just in the consumer-facing arena but also for enterprise software. Isn't lock-in ultimately working against a competitive market dynamic?


>What we need is more effective anti-trust legislation and enforcement, so that a number of platforms can coexist and compete even though there is a strong network effect to having a single platform.

There are a lot of platforms out there today. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit and Whatsapp are all huge. Plus there are smaller players like Tumblr, Viber, Telegram and plenty of regional players. The only anti-trust error was allowing Facebook to buy Instagram and Whatsapp. But that was a result of poorly enforcing existing laws not a regulatory gap.


One major issue is discriminatory access.

They shouldn't be able to pick and choose who gets access to what APIs and under what terms.

Everyone gets the same terms or no one does.


>anti-trust legislation and enforcement, so that a number of platforms can coexist and compete even though there is a strong network effect to having a single platform.

So, I get what you are saying.. but what kind of monopoly tactics are twitter/facebook actually doing? In my view it's virtually nothing.

Let's ignore facebook since it wasn't exactly first to market with myspace before it (although it was first to market in "this has your real name attached"), and talk about twitter.

Twitter had a fairly unique idea, you can post public messages that are very limited in scope. They were first to market on that- and that's why everyone uses it. What is stopping twitter clones from popping up? Absolutely nothing. Many people who read HN could easily make a suitable twitter clone. But would anyone use it? Pretty much no. Why? Because people like to centralize their technology as much as they can to make it actually useful.

What a pain in the ass it would be if you had 4 different twitter equivalents that you were trying to use.. or try to remember "oh friend A is on twitter1, Friend B is on twitter3" etc.

Now, yeah people still do this do a degree of course.. some friends might be on facebook, others twitter. So of course this segregation still exists but it's generally for products which are different in scope.

Anyway- my point is it's people and the marketplace have decided "1 facebook is OK" "1 twitter is OK". Arbitrarily trying to break them up is not what people even want. Paranoid people might think that's what people want because all they can see is the possibility of censorship and security stuff, but 95% of people just want to use something that works and they can connect with people without everything being a pain in the ass.


> So, I get what you are saying.. but what kind of monopoly tactics are twitter/facebook actually doing? In my view it's virtually nothing.

You are correct - monopolies are defined to control the supply of something to manipulate prices and hurt consumers.

The problem with these platforms is not that they are anti-consumer, the problem is that they are anti-competitive because they control the entire audience that a product can be sold to. This results in the commoditization of suppliers (eg news, books, etc.) and reduces competition in the distribution space of the economy that targets consumers.

It's a different way to think about it because it's a new concept in our modern world, but the mental model that I've seen is that there are three stages of creating something and selling it to a consumer:

1. Supplier / Manufacturer 2. Distributor 3. Consumer

In the old days, monopolies controlled supply and distribution, which resulted in consumers being hurt. Now, "aggregators" control distribution and the consumer, which leads to suppliers to drive down their costs or not even participate in the consumer space.

I HIGHLY recommend reading about aggregation theory on Stratechery to get a deeper understanding of this as Ben Thompson does a great job in explaining why the FANG companies do what they do: https://stratechery.com/2015/aggregation-theory/


> What a pain in the ass it would be if you had 4 different twitter equivalents that you were trying to use.. or try to remember "oh friend A is on twitter1, Friend B is on twitter3" etc.

It can be solved with interoperability. If it is not a problem for mobile networks - phone calls and text messages, why would it be problem for social networks?


Both facebook and twitter (and pretty much everyone in the market of social apps) build their monopolistic walls out of the network effect - we have the users people are interested in so nobody wants to use your service.

Mandating open communication between these services would help to break this monopoly and possibly just naturally evolve into the idealistic goal diaspora was aiming for, small networks of social groups that have news feeds floating between them and the ability to pick and chose from locally hosted and separately hosted feeds.


> What is stopping twitter clones from popping up?

Networks effects.

More precisely, The fact that you can't read and reply to someone's tweets on a clone, due to Twitter's terms and conditions, and copyright law (enforced by states).


Network effects are powerful, but Twitter especially has a weakness:

1. Popularity follows an extreme power law, so the number of people that would need to move is smaller than you'd intuitively think

2. Fads change relatively quickly, so it's not even necessarily about getting people to move, but about getting the next generation to invest somewhere else

3. The big players are extremely metrics driven, so if people feel like the tide is shifting, the transition from trickle to deluge could be shockingly fast

It's not all theoretical - Instagram created an entirely new network effect very quickly, and only FB's ability+willingness to gobble it up kept it from being another major player. But the next thing will come soon enough (less than 10 years for sure, probably less than 5), and then the dynamics of the space depend on the whims of a South American butterfly (or SF Biz Dev)


> Instagram created an entirely new network effect very quickly

That's a very good counterexample.


I'm increasingly of the position that without regulating these platforms, we don't ensure that they stay open and free, we ensure that they are controlled by foreign governments the occasional well-backed PR firm.


As for your end statement I'd say it's the other way around. They are commonly controlled by your well backed PR firm and occasionally controlled by governments.


The problem is that FB and Twitter has become a regulating entity in themselves - often with a political slant.


I would add Google to that list, but they are generally quieter about their actions.


I think in order to have any effective antitrust action, interoperability needs to be mandated, with data being easily exportable/visible to other companies.


that's far easier said than done. Simple example a basic chat who's only info is userId+message. Then service A decides they want userId+message+timeSent and service B decides to they want userId+message+userStatus(happy/sad/busy/away)

and on and on. Basically forcing interoperability means a huge slowdown on innovation as you can't add anything without a committee and years of negociation


It’s really not that hard. I ran a site for many years that interfaced with hundreds of different sites.

It could be as simple as not actively thwarting crawlers. Or in your example, they provide everything they have as an API and it’s up to the competitors to adapt to whatever features they provide. In which case, other companies can focus on the lowest common denominator and making that interoperable.

It’s not perfect or seamless, but the baseline isn’t that hard, and that’s good enough for most people.

And it’s funny you bring up messaging, for many years it was interoperable across many services via XMPP and it worked pretty well, until everyone decided it was in their competitive best interest to silo it. We really haven’t gained much in terms of innovation in that space since then, in many ways it’s much worse.


Heh, because Facebook has been so highly innovative lately.

Just exempt 'small' services from the rule. Maybe this will kick some of the get big at all cost behavior that's permeated tech companies recently in the teeth.


Find I find interesting is that there is little talk about actual attempts to provide solutions for this situation: Thee feediverse with mastodon, etc. or matrix.org.

To bring it down to a populist formula: Why not make a law that requires the interoperability/federation of social networks? We have laws that set requirements for restaurants... why not for social networks?


> What we need is more effective anti-trust legislation and enforcement, so that a number of platforms can coexist and compete even though there is a strong network effect to having a single platform.

One way to achieve that would be to require that platforms for user-generated content make that content available on open protocols, such as ActivityPub and RSS.

> I would also support laws requiring that these social media platforms [...] don't censor beyond what the law requires minimally

Then they wouldn't be allowed to ban spam, which would be a regressive step.


How will this solve any problems ?

There’s several assumptions here (for example: more platforms will mean better ‘X’), but how would that link with the actual issues being faced by society vis-a-vis social media?


How does anti-trust legislation work for these kind of sites? If Facebook was split up then what would stop a single identical entity from popping up in some other country that fills the niche for the entire world? I've seen it mentioned in various places on this site but I can't understand how it would work in practice.


>Nor do I want a single entity (as Facebook/Twitter exist today) to have that control.

If you're operating a business you fundamentally need that control.

The platform you're talking about it the internet. It already exists. You can use it to say whatever you want within law. If you use someone else's servers to do so they can boot you, just like I can kick someone out of my house.


What's needed is not antitrust laws, but interoperability laws (or, construe them as antitrust laws).

If there's interoperability between networks, then no one network can become dominant via momentum only, and has to actually provide value to users, and prevents lock-in.


what's the point of the internet if, due to network effects, everyone is using the facebook app?


Which network effects are locking you in to using Facebook and not self-publishing, or using Twitter, reddit, hackernews, Medium, Tumblr, or any other website?


Nobody is going to do the rounds to manually check their friends’ mediums, tumblrs, hacker news, reddit posts, for every friend.


>I would definitely not want the government to be able to control what ideas/speech is allowed on these platforms and what isn't.

I definitely want the US, with their strong ideas of free speech, to be the ones controlling those platforms. Because, as they are now, they are severely restricted.


The thing about strong free speech laws is that it protects facebook and twitter's right to censor. Telling users of their platform to shut up is part of their free speech rights.

Free speech does not mean a guaranteed platform for your ideas, unless you are the owner of the platform.


You have a poor understanding of free speech. If you use someone else's service/platform, you have zero right to free speech (certain speech is protected, but it's very limited).

The freedom of speech is specifically protection from government censorship. E.G., If you're publishing a newspaper the government can't come by and tell you what to say in it. The newspaper can publish (or not publish) anything they want.


Replace “newspaper” with “Facebook” or “Twitter” in your post and where do you end up? I think GP might have a better understanding of 1st Amendment than you give them credit for.


No. Facebook the company can publish or not publish whatever they want. They can censor you all they want. It has nothing to do with free speech as outlined in the constitution (which again, protects individual people from government censorship).


Somehow I must have typed my thoughts unclearly in my response above, because I agree 100% with everything you say immediately above (19171197). Facebook can censor whatever they want (IMO, private decisions on what to publish are inherently themselves a form of speech) and therefore the government is barred from censoring Facebook's publishing rights on First Amendment grounds.

If you take my suggestion (in 19168078), you end up with: "The freedom of speech is specifically protection from government censorship. E.G., If you're publishing <a site called Facebook> the government can't come by and tell you what to say in it. <Facebook> can publish (or not publish) anything they want." (For clarity, I agree with this 100%.)

The original post to which you replied (with expressed disagreement) said "The thing about strong free speech laws is that it protects facebook and twitter's right to censor." I also agree with that post 100%. It's your interleaved post's (19167743) first sentence in response to that ("You have a poor understanding of free speech.") that I disagreed with, given that that poster appears to hold the same point of view that you do immediately above.


I guess? it's a weird stretch. There's nothing specifically protecting what a business decides to censor other than the fact that the government can't engage in censorship.


But Facebook and Twitter are the ones publishing, not you as the user.


I agree 100%. That's why I suggested that then-GP (now GGGP https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19167303 ) was right/relevant.


Would you also be okay with your cell service provider censoring your calls and texts? After all, it's their platform you're communicating on.


>Free speech does not mean a guaranteed platform for your ideas, unless you are the owner of the platform.

Extorting the platform owner with implications that if they don't do as the government wishes they may compel them isn't exactly "freely given" consent.

The government has the ability to regulate many things, but threatening prior restraint of speech is a pretty bold claim, and perhaps content providers should call that bluff.


I think the government could modify safe harbor laws. Require sites above a certain size to minimize censorship to retain their safe harbor status. Eg allow everything that isn't illegal, is on topic, isn't advertisement, isn't spam and probably some other categories I didn't think of.

One of the big reasons these big companies censor things is because they're afraid of public backlash for being associated with certain types of content. If the government doesn't allow them to censor that content then the public wouldn't take it up with the platform.


>I think the government could modify safe harbor laws. Require sites above a certain size to minimize censorship to retain their safe harbor status. Eg allow everything that isn't illegal, is on topic, isn't advertisement, isn't spam and probably some other categories I didn't think of.

I think maybe it would be good to draw from the physical world. I'm not a lawyer but IIRC some states (eg California) let you leaflet on private property like malls if they're open to the public... I wish I could recall details but applying a similar logic online could be interesting.

But any modifications of safe harbor would worry me greatly.


Where did you come up with the idea that free speech laws give them the right to censor. It doesn't. Ownership and private property rights give them the right to censor.


Ownership and private property makes them liable for what happens on that private property, yet they are somehow exepmted from that liability. So all perks and none of the responsibilities.


That's a funny view. If someone comes to your bar and pushes another person's into a stool and kills them are you liable?


The government will absolutely entertain a lawsuit on those grounds, yes.

Whether liability and damages are assigned would depend on the details, but the principle is quite clear here.


The government often entertains strange pursuits in the name of justice. In the United States, a man was choked to death for selling loose cigarettes. That the state did it in the pursuit of the social contract doesn't make it right; and one should consider carefully the principles under which the state should pursue justice, with a careful eye towards how the state is liable to twist those principles to hurt the least politically empowered.


if your bar is running every tactic possible to keep you there and drinking and ignoring the consequences of it then yes i think they would have to answer for that.


That's a dangerous call to make. An Orlando nightclub once ran every tactic to keep its patrons there, and they fell victim to a predator. If the nightclub weren't working so hard to keep its patrons there, fewer people would have been victimized Are they liable? Why or why not?


They might be liable for not adequately protecting the patrons, for example. My uninformed personal opinion is that they are not liable in this case since they did have a security guard, but that guard is also being sued (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/06/0...).

Otherwise yes, it is quite possible to be liable for whatever happens on your private property. If drug deals are taking place between third parties in your house won’t you be liable? If you allowed those parties there you most definitely will be.


You're still punting the ethical question to a question of law. If someone is on your property and a car off the street swerves into your property and kills them surely you wouldn't be liable... or let's say a meteor hits your guest. Surely there is a limit to where liability kicks in. Where should that limit be and why


If your business is in letting the cars swerve onto your driveway then you will be liable. Don’t compare normal and regular human behavior on a platform to a meteor hitting the guests.


Unless you're Norwegian PM posting Pulitzer-winning photos.


A more robust id solution which is applicable to entities with revenue over X would be a constitutional way to solve the issues discussed in the article

The governments most successful crackdowns regulate the intermediaries

So in graph theory, you look at the node you want to control and then take the complement and restrict the nodes in the complement, while prohibiting the target node from interaction with non-restricted nodes

there is no sanction on non-restricted nodes and no sanction on the behavior of the target node, with voluntary compliance entered into by the restricted nodes

Examples of this approach: Accredited investor regulation (non-accredited citizens not prohibited from investing, businesses risk consequences)

Online gambling prohibition (citizens and online casinos not prohibited, voluntarily licensed financial institutions are prohibited from processing transactions)


I have greater issue with Google Search[1] than I do FB and TWTTR, they should provide a politically unbiased index of the surface web, but unlike DDG, Bing or others, they curate theirs to further their world view outside that required by law.

Twitter and FBs issue is reliance and optimizing for engagement which leads to clicking and surfacing the most outrageous stuff at the expense of the ordinary.

Google search doesn’t have “an gagement problem”. They have black hat SEO problem, which is different, but they go beyond that and tweak some search results for political reasons. Not talking about terrorism or supremacy groups at all, but somewhat controversial social issues, (reproductive) sometimes tame issues (searching for candidates)[1]. The EU has fined them for “re-ranking” SERs and SSE effects.

>These data showed that Google’s search results favored Hillary Clinton (whom I supported) in all 10 positions on the first page of search results — enough, perhaps, to have shifted two or three million votes in her direction over time.<

Given that, 2-3MM vote swing (vs, what the outside estimate was under 50k votes for Russian bot sway), I’d say Google is the real problem in affecting democratic elections.

[1]https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/09/13/google-big...


[flagged]


Thanks for bringing that to light. I was unaware. Still, the EU fined them for SER(p) manipulation. And, independently of mr Epstein, one can do side-by-side comparisons btwn Google and DDG and Bing and one will see the manipulation in action.

So, while his conclusions might be disingenuous, his assertions (manipulation) can be independently confirmed.


That was actually the one line in the article that got me riled up and caused me to start digging.

>Is there evidence of actual favoritism in Google’s search engine? Well, the European Union certainly thinks so, having fined Google $2.7 billion last year for having biased search results.

The fine was for an anti-trust ruling, where it was determined Google was promoting their own shopping results (showing them at the top of the page) over organic shopping sites, stifling competition. Favoritism for their own service, maybe, but nothing to do with pushing or manipulating results.

So that's why I suspected he had an agenda to push and was willing to spin the truth to argue for it.

You can argue that study [4] showed Google tended to have more Clinton-favorable results, but I don't personally think that shows manual manipulation. It's worth a critical read--in Issue 7, he seriously alleges that Google somehow realized this study was being conducted halfway through, and started serving unbiased results to subjects with Gmail accounts. If you accept that conclusion, okay, but I'd tend to believe that the results aren't as statistically significant as claimed.


Interestingly, Google disagrees with the EU. So they deny doing what the EU claims they did.

Here's a read of some of the things they do out of legal obligation and other they do for selfish reasons and others for other reasons they believe are worthwhile: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_by_Google#Search_su...

compare an autocomplete search for sarah joeng, robert muller, or roger stone on google, ddg and bing and look at SSE results. Bing DDG show relevant political issues, Google is coy about those.


As I posted previously when this topic came up (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19079526), it makes little sense to regulate these companies while there are still federal laws on the books actively encouraging the centralization of big tech. Quoting from that post:

Why not start with relaxing the federal laws which forbid the development of third-party applications?

The limits on third-party apps are legal, not technical. It is not technically challenging to build an application that collects Facebook credentials and then presents alternative views and features. It could, for example, finally be possible to see a time-ordered view of your friends' posts (Facebook doesn't allow this since it reduces engagement).

The development of such applications would serve as a threat and check on the market dominance of Facebook. A popular third-party application could consider adding its own features that Facebook does not have. It would also reduce Facebook's revenue.

What stops this? In the US, it is primarily the CFAA (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_Fraud_and_Abuse_Act). Once Facebook formally tells a company to stop accessing their servers, they are in violation of federal law if they continue to do so.

It seems premature to pursue legal action while we still have federal laws that encourage and cement the dominance of a single provider.


> It could, for example, finally be possible to see a time-ordered view of your friends' posts (Facebook doesn't allow this since it reduces engagement).

Am I missing something? This has always been a feature on Facebook right? I might be crazy but I thought that this was the only way I've been using FB for years. They call it "Most Recent" News Feed, isn't that the same as "time-ordered"? I'm quite sure they more than "allow it", they spend significant money on supporting it.

> It seems premature to pursue legal action while we still have federal laws that encourage and cement the dominance of a single provider.

Why? The laws are generally meant for different things (protecting trademark/quality of service/etc issues, vs. destabilization of society by having too much direct influence.

We can - and must - do more than 1 thing at at time, it's not premature to take action on Thing A while Thing B is still in-progress.


This will further entrench Facebook and make it “too big to fail”


I honestly feel the opposite is true -- that the case was reasonably strong in the past and it's gotten steadily weaker.

Go back 5-8 years ago, and I might have felt like Facebook and Twitter were unstoppable monopolies. Nowadays I feel reasonably confident that post-millennial generations are going to widely abandon Facebook. And I feel reasonably confident that as Mastadon matures, it will take an increasingly large amount of market share from Twitter.

Mastadon in particular is surprising to me, because I did not think it was going to work. And sure, it's still minuscule right now, but I'm willing to bet that usage is going to steadily trend upwards. Right now, you kind of need to care a lot to switch to Mastadon, but there exists a tipping point where the user base becomes big enough that for certain communities it makes sense to just switch en-mass.

I think people underestimate how hard it is to get a small-to-medium number of users to switch off of a network, and overestimate how hard it is to get everyone to switch off of a network.

I guess I'm willing to bet that the fake news/foreign bots panic will last longer than those platforms, but I also can't think of how regulation is ever going to fix that. Maybe in Europe, but in America 1st Amendment protections are going to get in the way. Facebook has more power to ban hate speech and bots right now than it would if it were a public utility.


> Nowadays I feel reasonably confident that post-millennial generations are going to widely abandon Facebook.

You are probably forgetting Instagram and WhatsApp which completely dominate the respective market. There is literally no competition for Facebook at all.


That is a very good point.

I'm not sure I agree that those apps are untouchable, but I would agree that Facebook as a company is in a much stronger position than Facebook as an individual product, and the company is probably a long ways from going away.


I'm disappointed that Bloomberg published an article that points out all of the problems with unregulated social media but doesn't purpose specific regulations that could be helpful for most of the problems they point out.

What can the goverment do to help prevent foreign interference with domestic elections via social media? If Facebook is a natural monopoly what regulations would make it's use more fair? They suggest a user's bill of rights, but only one item that would fit in it. A bill of rights naturally would include multiple items. To make matters worse the ToS lets users know how their data might be used which is the only item suggested for the user's bill of rights.

All companies in the United States are subject to a barrage of regulations. In my opinion some are good and some aren't. Purposing more regulations without the details of what those regulations are is like a blank check.


I think it's mostly supposed to be notable because it's a well known Harvard law prof who served in the Obama admin publicly changing his mind.

It's a short opinion declaration piece by design.

Though, I agree it would've been better with more detailed advocacy.


The thing is that deciding how to regulate social media is extremely difficult. So someone arguing for such regulation can't begin by saying what they want. They have to take a broad "it should be regulated" "look how terrible, can't we DO SOMETHING??" sort of approach. Then argue regulation isn't bad by looking at different examples.

Only once there's a huge ground swell can specific proposals be laid down.

But all this is makes it sound like a giant power grab. And yes, that's what I'd call it. Not because all regulation is bad but because this particular thing is far outside the purview of the Federal Government.


I think I'd start with forcing advertising transparency on any social network (and probably search engines too -- actually, make that any site with advertising).

And then force any company paying for political advertising to list every single one of their donors publicly. Chuck an unlimited personal liability clause in there for the company directors, so they can't just wind the company up to avoid any fines.


It isn't an article, it is an op-ed. But I agree, it is low quality.


I would consider op-ed to be a subset of articles. Is that incorrect?


Not really, it isn't a Bloomberg article. Sure, if you want to be pedantic and look up the definition of article, you'll disagree.

But within the context of newspapers and op-eds, you need to treat them separately.


Agreed, contributing to the discussion by only elaborating on problems grows only the vacuum and makes it easier for ANY solution to slide on in.


The president of the US uses Twitter to make statements to the public, and so do a lot of other officials.

So the argument that it's a purely private platform is getting harder to make than just the Facebook use-case where "all my friends use it", which you could also say about iPhones, or Coca-Cola. Should a private company be allowed to ban you from what's becoming a de-facto platform for interacting with officials?

But the article lazily likes to pretend that this problem could be solved within the borders of the US with proposed FCC regulation. That still leaves the most interesting problem, which is how are we going to square the free and open Internet with the interests of nation states and their individual citizens.

There's complaints about Russian election interference. But right now US-sponsored election interference is happening in Venezuela via Twitter. What's to be done about cases like those? Is Venezuela's only recourse going to be to ban Twitter?


This problem isn't social media specific either. Google and Facebook banned ads on abortion ahead of Ireland's referendum on the topic, but I'm sure not all ad networks did the same. Affecting the rankings of search results on sites such as Google and YouTube can also interfere with elections in another country.

I wonder if we're eventually going to have a global internet and then smaller nation or region-based "internets" that people use for most of their daily internet-use. It certainly seems like the internet is fracturing right now and this topic is another reason for it.


> But right now US-sponsored election interference is happening in Venezuela via Twitter.

Do you have a source for that?


Not sure on his source or argument but my guess would be accounts advocating for Maduro to be displaced by Guaido. If you look at it from that POV, you will clearly see how Twitter is playing a vital part in an US-backed coup against the Venezuelan people because currently, Maduro still has support from some of his allies and from his own military. [1] These are mucky waters to wonder through.

1: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-aid-id...


The downside with this is the "regulatory moat". If this hypothetical regulation becomes hard to meet, then only a few companies are able to comply with it and it inadvertently reinforces their position.

What I would like to see is a requirement for platforms to be open, so they can't take data and networks of people hostage by locking things down. An analog is portability of healthcare data: one hospital or EMR vendor can't lock up data for themselves, they must make it open to others (though they still drag their feet and don't always make it convenient).


This tends to be the bargain for natural monopolies. You’re limited by regulation but you basically cease to have competition (like.. Comcast).


I get uncomfortable with this line of thought. I would much rather let the market produce alternatives products when companies do things customers object to.

The best thing about the internet is that it is so easy for another product to spring up to serve a new need or compete with ensconced businesses.

Regulations increase cost of business and dissuades other companies from competing.


It's surprising to see how much many posters on HN want more government regulation over a tech company.

It's about how so many are in favor of "taxing the rich", not realizing that to Middle America with an average household income of $70K, if you make over six figures, you are "the rich".

And from the political skew of HN, I wonder how many actually trust this government with more power?


The problem is, right now Facebook and Twitter have significant power. And the question is whether or not you trust the government, but which you trust more: A company with a slogan of "move fast and break things", or a bureaucracy purpose-built to move very slowly and purposefully.


Well, seeing that the government has the largest army in the world and the power to take away property via taxes and imminent domain, I worry much more about the government than Facebook.


Anybody who just blindly "trusts" any government, facebook, Google, or any large organization is a moron.

You have to consider what you're trusting them to do.

I trust organizations to act in my interest so long as our interests align. It is the difference between allies and friends.


It's not just a bureaucracy built to move slowly and purposefully, it's one that we all, by design, have a say in operating.

Don't like how Facebook runs its data collection on you whether you have an account or not? Tough. There's no, and will never be, a town hall for Facebook.

Don't like how the county runs its health services departments? Well, you can show up at county council meetings, you can get involved politically, you can vote, etc.

Fundamental difference.


Theoretically, yes.

But if you live in a larger state like California, you have much less say in the federal government on a per capita basis than someone who lives in Rhode Island between the Senste (2 senators per state regardless of population) and the electoral college, not to mention gerrymandering.


That's not the only question. I don't trust either one, but one I can choose not to interact with, or to limit and control my interaction with.


You don't have a choice about Facebook. They are collecting data about you right now and affecting the society you live in. At least the government is accountable through elections.


> They are collecting data about you right now

Browsers can block that quite easily.

> and affecting the society you live in

And people are becoming more aware of how that happens, and developing tools to control and expose that, and at the end of the day people can choose to use it or not.

> At least the government is accountable through elections.

Not particularly, no.

I feel far, far more enfranchised in my ability to choose what voluntary associations I form. I know I'm not the only one.


> Browsers can block that quite easily.

How? That's not possible. Facebook knows where you are and what you're doing, etc, without you even having a computer or smartphone at all. Your friends or their friends will already upload your address, phone number, contact info, etc.

When you go out in public and you get caught in the background of someone else's photo, that you might not even know is being taken? They might post that to FB or Instagram, and then boom, FB gets another data point to analyze and find out where you go and what your habits are.

"Browsers" can't block what Facebook does to track users, not even close. That would be a trillion-dollar-invention.

> And people are becoming more aware of how that happens,

Are they? I don't think they are. I think people are grossly misinformed about how the data is collected.

> and developing tools to control and expose that

Who is? I know of no serious efforts to meaningfully reduce the data FB is able to collect.

> and at the end of the day people can choose to use it or not.

No they cannot. None of these services or companies are opt-in. You have profiles with them long before you sign up. You are being manipulated and studied and watched and you have no choice about it.


At least the government is accountable through elections.

Yes, "accountable". Quotes here because voter suppression, disenfrachisment and aggressive gerrymandering are all things that really make me wonder about the substance of accountability ala plebiscite.

And no, I am not throwing out any babies or bathwater here.


At least we can, (in theory) vote out our government. If I am not a shareholder, there is nothing I can do to stop a big company’s bad behavior, and if I am a shareholder, then my interests align with the big company’s bad behavior.

Perhaps over a certain size, companies should be somehow required to provide the public some amount of voting power on their board, absent a financial interest in the company’s results.


> If I am not a shareholder, there is nothing I can do to stop a big company’s bad behavior

Choose not to do business with them. Advocate that others not do business with them. Encourage employees to leave or change things. Work with companies you can influence to avoid doing business with them. Create competition, whether as a business or as a new technology that obsoletes theirs. There are many, many things you can do that have far more likelihood of enacting meaningful change, and that have nothing to do with being a shareholder.

The likelihood of success in such methods depends heavily on the ability to get others to agree with you and take action.


> Choose not to do business with them

This has no effect whatsoever. You can try but it won't matter. You make money for Facebook and Google even if you spend every waking hour trying not to do so. Your very existence - that you have opinions, ideas, that you go places, spend money, etc- is sufficient for these businesses to choose to do "business" with you without your knowledge. They'll take things you thought were yours and then use that to sell ads to other companies.

> Advocate that others not do business with them.

Again, this won't matter one bit. This kind of change takes decades to propagate throughout society, way slower than is necessary to avoid damage done.

> ...

> The likelihood of success in such methods depends heavily on the ability to get others to agree with you and take action.

So none of your ideas will work. The 'markets' are broken when looking at long-term financial gain through sustainable growth and consumer choice. Do not look to broken-since-inception-on-purpose "models" to dictate how you think a modern economy should function.


> So none of your ideas will work.

Your dismissal is not a counterargument. These approaches have worked in the past, multiple times, with many different companies, to enact change. They may or may not work every time. And on the flip side, in some cases not everyone will agree that they should work. Your position of what should happen to these companies is not necessarily a universal position.


> Your dismissal is not a counterargument.

Oh sorry, I didn't mean to dismiss. I was trying to say that if your conclusion/mechanism to enact change depends on the success of convincing individual people do take action, it is unlikely to succeed for these reasons:

- People converse slowly, especially on awkward topics like privacy. Opinions change slowly.

- Propaganda and willingness of huge corporations to try to alter public opinion is huge, growing and already very intense. There is little historical analogue for it because so much power is concentrated so tightly now, with tools that completely change the balance of power (like AI, big data analytics, etc).

> They may or may not work every time.

Right. But we only have 1 shot at this and it needs to work. Our systems have already failed and our society is suffering because of it. Our government is not stable, our emotions are proudly directly manipulated by corporations, and we are hurting because of it.

We must regulate because we cannot afford future losses of this magnitude.


> - People converse slowly, especially on awkward topics like privacy. Opinions change slowly.

And yet you're suggesting government regulation that moves more quickly, which implies that the government shouldn't wait that conversation and consensus to happen. (Leaving aside whether the government should do it even if people do support it, it certainly seems even worse to do it if there isn't such a consensus.)

> But we only have 1 shot at this and it needs to work.

You are presuming agreement with your premise. And you are furthermore presuming that the resulting regulation will work, and will not cause worse damage. (And where does "only have one shot at this" come from, here?)

"The government should exert control over one of the most popular communications mediums" is a terrifying proposition, with the potential to support a huge amount of damage. I don't think it's a given that that damage would be less than the problem it's trying to solve.


> And yet you're suggesting government regulation that moves more quickly, which implies that the government shouldn't wait that conversation and consensus to happen.

That's right. If the government waits for a consensus, it will never arrive. No action will be taken and society will crumble.

> (Leaving aside whether the government should do it even if people do support it, it certainly seems even worse to do it if there isn't such a consensus.)

Why does it seem worse? The entire premise of not having a full democracy is that sometimes the people are not capable of determining what will help the country prosper in 20-50 years. We elect a body of smart people to help set these courses. It seems obvious and built-in to the system that the government must occasionally pass unpopular legislation.

> You are presuming agreement with your premise.

This is all past-tense though. All of this has already happened, is fact now, and so I feel 100% comfortable stating things that agree with history, as fact that agrees with my points. We have already lost our democracy and a lack of regulation is very clearly at fault, both in electoral law and in tech regulation.

> And you are furthermore presuming that the resulting regulation will work, and will not cause worse damage

I will happily invite studies on this. But there is significant work already that shows that power corrupts, that greed has no end, that we live in a tragedy of the commons where unrestricted markets do not produce optimal outputs for the population.

> I don't think it's a given that that damage would be less than the problem it's trying to solve.

Given the absolutely immense damage that has already occurred, I disagree. I think it is a given that regulation would solve far more problems than it would 'cause'.


> If the government waits for a consensus, it will never arrive.

I didn't say "unanimous", I said "consensus".

> as fact that agrees with my points.

You are jumping from a set of events that took place to presuming what specific action should occur in response. The former are facts, the latter requires actual arguments and support.

> there is significant work already that shows that power corrupts

On that we agree. Which leads me to entirely different conclusions.

I don't especially want to pursue this further; I don't think any new arguments are likely to arise.


> I wonder how many actually trust this government with more power?

No matter someone's political views, it surprises me when people are willing to trust the government with more power as long as their party is in control, while forgetting that their party will not always be in control. Before assigning a new power to government, consider whether you'd trust the opposing party to wield it.


If that was honestly the case, new laws and regulations would never get passed as you fear both sides abusing them to further their own goals. It only furthers the goals of those who believe the government should be destroyed to employ gridlock because over time regulations will be erased with nothing to replace them.

For some things I would trust the government over states. If Gay Marriage was left up to the states, there would still be a large amount of states that would gladly ban it. Yet people feared any sort of laws or regulations surrounding gay marriage being passed as a way of the government usurping power.


> For some things I would trust the government over states.

I would certainly consider federal regulations saying "states may not prevent X" (and in turn state regulations saying "cities may not prevent X") a good thing. That's not an increase in power, that's an intentional ceding of power.


Forget the future, some people seem to be making that mistake with an opposing government right now. How many people do you see on the 'left' of the political spectrum wanting the government to regulate 'fake news' or 'social media' or 'the internet' while forgetting that it's Donald Trump and co in power right now?

You already see full well how much the government disagrees with its critics on what's considered fake news or not. Don't they realise it'd probably be pro Breitbart/pro Infowars regulation there, with the main targets being those outlets they support?

Same goes for this social media regulation stuff. You won't get a crackdown on 'Russian propaganda', since the elected government over in the US does't believe it is an issue at all.

Government agencies don't stay very independent either, and even if they do, you have no guarantee they'll do what you think is right at all. See net neutrality and Ajit Pai.

So yeah, their party won't always be in control and in a lot of cases, their party isn't in control right now anyway.


It surprises me people think along the lines of parties, particularly more often than not 2 parties: us and them.


The thing is, the government already has the power! Congress can pass any laws it likes, the president can try to veto, and the courts will decide what's legit or not. "Trusting this government with more power" is totally outside your control.


> "Trusting this government with more power" is totally outside your control.

When you fight to pass a law that will create new government institutions and regulations and grow it in size, you're advocating the granting of more power to government. You are in control of whether you choose to advocate that or whether you choose to say "this could be abused".

Government is the ultimate example of needing to consider yourself part of the threat model of your system.


> It's surprising to see how much many posters on HN want more government regulation over a tech.

Regulation is one of the best ways for incumbents to build a competitive moat against prospective new entrants.


>to Middle America with an average household income of $70K

1) median is a better metric to use than average for this sort of thing

2) an average of 70K with two incomes is not at all impressive. a single person making 6 figures is doing incredibly well, compared to the average household.


https://dqydj.com/united-states-household-income-brackets-pe...

I was actually off the 50th percentile is actually around $60K


You are applying heuristics for a normal distribution to a power law distribution. If you aren't in the .01% you aren't really that rich at all in the larger scheme of things.


> I would much rather let the market produce alternatives products when companies do things customers object to.

Why, though? This line of thinking does not work in a modern, connected society. You can not any longer choose to avoid these services, and you will still be affected. Personal consumer choice may take decades to play out in the market, as people take time - a lot of time - to identify and address risks in a rapidly changing environment like tech and social.

We all have Facebook profiles whether we want to or not - and this means that individual choice no longer means anything about whether or not the company survives. The market reacts very slowly. Are you willing for humanity to suffer from consequences we can identify and fix, but choose not to while we let the 'market' decided?

Externalities are not priced in to the price of pollution and the damages done by climate change. The 'market' does not select for an optimal solution by anyone's definition here or with social/web.

By letting the 'market' decide, you are directly allowing and accepting that billions of dollars of propaganda, meant to shape public opinion through the use of logical fallacies, scare tactics, etc, would end up being the deciding factor in how social media works. You'll end up with billionaire interests being 'market-encouraged' while the regular people will have no voice.

> The best thing about the internet is that it is so easy for another product to spring up to serve a new need or compete with ensconced businesses.

This doesn't seem true to me at all. If anything, the Internet is the most intrenched-money-takes-all platform we have. I think you are mistaken when it comes to your optimism about how the web works.

> Regulations increase cost of business

I think this is false. Regulations increase the sustainable lifetime of a business by providing a stable market to operate in for decades.

> and dissuades other companies from competing.

I think this is also false. Regulations create opportunities for sustainable business, and do not dissuade from real value creation.


I agree in theory, however our anti-trust laws are not strong enough to allow competition.

Facebook, etc., can easily purchase any social network that gains significant traction, and has done so multiple times in the past.

How do you solve for that?


> I would much rather let the market produce alternatives products

Please identify how "alternatives" can displace an entrenched monopoly without regulatory interference?

Is your solution just wait for FB to fail?

A smart regulation would simply to require transparency or as someone mentioned elsewhere in another comment, a requirement for federation using some standard - ie, removing those monopoly barriers.


Show me a competing products.

Show me how the market self-regulated to properly treat a customer’s data.


Even if I agreed with the reasoning behind regulating Facebook and Twitter, I'd be uncomfortable with the suggestion just based on my observation of unintended consequences around just this sort of thing...


Congressperson: We need to regulate social media because unregulated social media has these dangers, etc.

The Public: I'm on board with that!

Congressperson then introduces a bill that imposes regulations that benefit Congressperson's generous donors, while resulting in an even bigger shitshow than before for the public.

The Public: WTF, man?!

Congressperson (if Republican): That's what happens when you let "big government" and stifling regulation go unchecked! Who's up for repealing the Clean Air Act?


I would prefer that tech companies come up with solutions to these problems and therefore not require law to try to solve them. And yet, I think regulations are often a sign that an industry had conflicts and just kept avoiding the issues, so people got tired of waiting.

I personally am tired of watching Twitter, Facebook, Google, and others give the impression that they didn't know fake accounts were being used to manipulate the actions of individuals--either to hate someone, vote against someone, send money, download a virus--as this seems to be the storied history of spam. I'm tired of interacting with someone who appears real but may be fabricated to trick me into doing something. This problem is not slowing down, as the This Person Does Not Exist site showed us the other day here.

I yearn for the tech company that creates a platform where I interact with people who are verified to be who they say they are. Please, tech companies, let people verify their accounts. Let the overall verified users on your platform increase. Please do something before regulators step in so that they don't believe they have to.


How do you verify a user in the age of identity theft, across all nations on the platform?

And how do you stop retaliation against non-popular options, like homosexuality in particular countries?


As someone who doesn't use Facebook, Twitter, or their subsidiaries, the debate is kinda laughable. Sure break them up for antitrust. Write privacy regulation. But regulating the content shared there? If you don't like it, it's so easy to opt out, and it feels great. People write like these are utilities necessary for a good life, which sounds crazy from the outside.


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Of course I don't consider myself insulated from these platforms.

> You do use them, even if you didn't sign up or agree to it, you do use their services. Your contact info is already there and every chance FB or whoever gets to learn something new about you, they take it.

That's what I mean by "Write privacy regulation." That's separate from the whole news/propaganda/content thing.

And the "first they came..." poem is a ridiculous comparison. I'm not laughing about the oppression of people who have beliefs or traits they stand up for. I'm laughing about people who don't like an unnecessary product but aren't willing to walk away.


Trusting any government to regulate massively-powerful information clearing houses is a mistake, because they will inevitably, eventually, and maybe even (best case) unintentionally abuse it for their own ends, as history has demonstrated.

Trusting those clearing houses to regulate themselves is a mistake, because they have already abused their power for their own ends (profit).

We should never trust any organisation to work against its own interests or those of its members. They must all be required to be utterly transparent in relevant actions and reasoning behind those actions.


I think it might become necessary to create an antitrust class for effective media monopolies like twitter and facebook, as well as financial institutions (paypal, mastercard, etc) that includes provisions for aknowledging and preserving first amendment rights.

While nobody likes speech that they don't agree with, or feel is vitriolic against one's own ideology, it's exactly that speech which needs to be protected. PC outrage is maximizing online censorship in ways that should send chills down anyone's spine.


Perhaps something along the lines of, "Any company with more than 5 (or 10?) million monthly users in the system," as a baseline for provisions regarding protected speech. I don't like censorship in general, but can respect those that would want to build smaller communities with proactive moderation vs the likes of twitter/facebook etc with very little effective moderation in practice.

Also, similar provisions ensuring that policies against classes of speech are used regardless of backing ideology.


and google ...


> Everyone now knows that foreign governments, most notably Russia, have been using social media aggressively to promote their interests.

And if anyone is going to be using social media to manipulate public opinion in the US, it should be the US government, goddamnit!


Maybe, yeah. I'm not a cultural relativist: Democracies are better than dictatorships; freedom of expression is better than repression; pluralism is better than chauvinism.

Every major technology platform in the West exists as result of small-l liberal enlightenment values. Maybe I wouldn't name the current United States as my ideal champion for those values, but I don't have any problem with the general suggestion that Western tech companies should be promoting liberal values around the world.


If a single corporation can control the primary means of communication and only allows "corporate-sanctioned" messages, then we will no longer be a democracy in any meaningful sense.

Yes, maybe that is alarmist, after all they are only concerned about corporate influence, but this isn't the first time in Facebook history where you could just accuse someone of being a bot to shut them up if you don't like what they say.


If the government can control the primary means of communication and only allows "state-sanctioned" messages, the we will no longer be a democracy in any meaningful sense

Yes, maybe that is alarmist, after all they are only concerned about foreign influence, but this isn't the first time in US history where you could just accuse someone of being a Russian agent to shut them up if you don't like what they say.


And preferably the incumbents!!

I think we know that with all kinds of foreign media ownership with diverse interests makes Russia a moot subject, except Russia does it by subversive methods rather than overt accepted methods.


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I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure libel / slander is not a criminal offense anywhere in the US. You could get sued, if you lie about someone and they can actually prove that it caused them some monetary damage, but no, you don't go to jail.


Okay. It's still illegal and my point stands. There are disincentives for it here and that matters.


Your point does not stand.

It's not illegal (a violation of civil or criminal law) in most jurisdictions.

It's a slam dunk lawsuit though. There's basically just strict liability for any harm that comes of it (yes, I know I'm over-generalizing). Being liable for damages caused by making damaging false statements is basically the court forcing you to accept personal responsibility and making you make it right. Actions that constitute libel rarely violate a civil or criminal law (in the US). A lot of things are slam dunk lawsuits that aren't illegal (e.g. breach of contract).


I don't think a compelling case has been made that Russia is doing this "aggressively". At least compared to the US, China or perhaps some other countries.


"If federal officials are going to regulate social media, they should be independent of the president."

You're in luck, the legislature (where regulations are supposed to come from) is a whole separate branch from the President. Any time you've got the executive branch handling it, the President is in charge of it.


Except that the legislature writes general polices and defers to the executive to work out the specifics.


That sounds like a minefield. How do you regulate a service where two people from different countries can interact? Which countriy's law should be followed when a person from country Y posts on a feed from country X? What if the laws contradict eachother?

Multinationals had to deal with multiple regulations before, but most time that was solved by using the visitor's residency, but that might not be so clear cut when we are talking about social networks.


A good example to watch is with the ramifications of the GDPR playing out in the EU. I'm still not sure how I feel about the actual wording and effects of the GDPR, but it does provide a test-bed of sorts.


> If federal officials are going to regulate social media, they should be independent of the president. The simplest course would be to give new authority to the FCC rather than to a whole new agency, though the latter option also deserves consideration.

I was just thinking I hadn't seen a picture of Ajit Pai's ridiculous coffee mug for like 15 minutes now.


His coffee mug (or something equally ridiculous), would not be out of place in a Silicon Valley office of any kind. Is his coffee mug your objection, or do you dislike the man (and his political views), and hence, ridicule everything about him as an ad hominem sort of attack?

I find this very irritating, and we see it also with Donald Trump, where it suddenly becomes okay to body shame someone, make suggestive comments about their relationship with their wife or children, or attack them in other ways unrelated to their politics, because of their politics. I wouldn't say I'm a fan of either individual by any means, but I think we should aim to do much better, especially here on HN. Can we talk about a corporate-owned bureaucrat and an incompetent president as a corporate-owned bureaucrat and an incompetent president?


I apologize for Reese shaming. I think there's a difference between body shaming and making light of someone's obviously deliberately chosen self image.


In context of the criticisms of these people (and more importantly, the interests they represent) that actually matter, they are functionally the same, silly distractions. Ocdtrekkie didn't equate bringing up that cup with body shaming, they simply mentioned that as another result of what I would call the same inability to be serious, even about fires that are still raging, causing suffering, and for which we have no answer and no plan. It's like some kind of pressure release valve I guess, and IMO that pressure needs to find a better route.


I think regulating Google is more important. Sure social media has a lot of noise, but Search is actual reality. Google’s potential to shape worldview and commerce based on search result would have much greater impact from regulation.

Imagine a single company selling 90% of all tv ads in the country? Or a single company selling 90% of all the ads in newspapers.


I would go much further. Break up Twitter into a bunch of Mastodon instances. Break up Facebook into a bunch of Diaspora instances. The internet should be open. Imagine if email or HTTP was proprietary like Facebook and Twitter are. This is a nightmare and we should end it.


> Imagine if email or HTTP was proprietary like Facebook and Twitter are. This is a nightmare and we should end it.

Email is a means of communication, twitter is a platform. Anyone is free to implement a 140 character messaging service, the only problem is that these particular social media platforms have gotten monstrous. I don't like them, but the comparison between HTTP and Facebook doesn't seem right.


What is classified as a "means of communication" or a "public utility" and what is "a platform" is itself language that is a consequence of political conditions. If HTTP or email were proprietary and owned by a single entity, they would refer to their ownership of it as "a platform" just as Facebook and Twitter do now. There is no technical reason these services cannot be reduced to mere "means of communication" or a "public utility" by means of breaking them up into separate services that are forced to federate with each other over a common protocol, e.g. Mastodon/Diaspora.


Many people care about a social platform just because of its monstrous popularity, and for that reason one might say there will always be a demand for a Facebook, even if Facebook itself dies.


Besides being infeasible for multiple reasons, how would that help with any of the problems pointed in the article (except the monopoly part)?


Of course it's feasible. There are already plenty of ways to migrate Twitter/FB data to Mastodon/Diaspora. To do a full migration, we would need an antitrust ruling with an order to perform the migration. It isn't likely but it is feasible.

Solving the monopoly problem indirectly solves (or at least reduces the severity of) other problems. When one big bad actor gets reduced to twelve small actors, when one of those actors acts badly it's a smaller problem.


Migration isn't the problem. Lack of interop between platforms is.

It doesn't matter that there's a Facebook clone that you can migrate your profile to, when nobody you want to talk to is using it.


Mastodon and Diaspora are federated.


Can I talk to my Facebook friends from Mastodon?

If the answer is no, then no amount of Facebook->Mastodon migration legislature is going to make a compelling case to switch, and the network effect will keep me in the Facebook ecosystem.


If Facebook were broken up into a dozen Diaspora instances, the answer is yes. That's the whole point of using antitrust law in this way. To solve that problem.


EMail is damn close since if Google blocks or marks your server as spam, its pretty over for you.


I wonder how people would feel if the VC's that they rely on were broken up for having "too much influence"?


I hope the future is one where you can pack up your social profile and move it to another service provider, or host it yourself. All without any of your contacts, friends and associates knowing or caring which service provider or host your profile is on.

Just like telcos are now. Keep your phone number and move to another provider.

In other words, running with the grain of how the open web works best, rather than against it. Until that happens, I will never join FB or any other walled junkyard.


Decentralized social networks are a thing, and will become a much bigger thing, fueled by the catalyst of the aforementioned monarchs of social media taking things way too far.


Allowing the government to regulate Facebook and Twitter is opening a door for the government to claim it has the legal right to regulate anything on the Internet. While Facebook and Twitter indeed might be used for nefarious things, dissidents and social activists depend on the unruly nature of the Internet for a lot of their operation. You can have both or none.


Regulate content, no. Break up de-facto monopolies, yes. Facebook should be forced to sell off Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp, for starters.


Not agreeing or disagreeing, but I don't think Snapchat is owned by Facebook.


Right; Facebook tried, but failed.


I thought this was going to be an article about corporate taxes (or lack thereof).

So now we're going to introduce the perilous hand of federal invention, and it's not to make gigantic companies pay their fair share, but to stifle speech?


There are serious consumer protection issues that need to be addressed. Laws establish individuals rights and individual freedoms. We need some good well-written laws by people who know what they are talking about.


I don't understand how Twitter and Facebook can simultaneously be accused of Monopoly. They're competitors in the same market


I struggle with this concept. One of my problems with these platforms is that de-platforming someone can be argued to be a violation of free speech (there are valid counter arguments as well). I don't know how to solve that because I think that no one forces news papers to accept articles from people they think are crazy.

Can we separate the "data storage" at this scale from the message delivery. Where de-platforming someone doesn't mean losing your hosting of the videos but instead pushes you to a fringe "subscription and recommendation" tool?

This is a massive hand waiving over simplification so please correct gross assumptions I'm making here.

Youtube has services that could be broken into separate "categories" if you would. Platform to post videos. Platform to subscribe to videos. Platform for recommendations of videos. Platform with "top" videos as watched by everyone.

Then you've got Google Search which doesn't control the data but caches it and it has a database of the inter-relationships between sites and you and can recommend sites to you. Up until they started customizing data to a user I'd say there was only one issue here. But now that they customize, you actually have two sets of data in search. Your data. The Internet's interconnected relationships.

I don't know how you break this data apart in a reasonable way. I mean Google did create all of it or buy a platform and expand it in the case of YouTube. They deserve to be rewarded for their innovation (obviously my opinion) but we need an equal ability to compete.

I am obviously concerned when you can be "de-platformed" for a TOS violation and silenced. Especially when some of these platforms are so ubiquitous that being de-platformed from them all could completely silence an individual. But at the same time a company should have the right to choose who their customers are if there aren't fair regulations that address this.

So it's complicated and I think this sort of thing deserves a lot of conversation. I still think action isn't appropriate because if we did have twitter owned by the government we'd also need to keep free speech on there. It'd have to get a court order for data to come down as libel or something similar.


I don't know how to solve that because I think that no one forces newspapers to accept articles from people they think are crazy.

I don't think this is tangential... I don't think this necessarily resolves to a perfectly fundamental principle, in a philosophically loophole-free way. Maybe a newspaper isn't a good analogy.

Here's one example. A large portion of elected officials around the world communicates with (and mostly to) their electorate mostly on social media. It is how they get elected, argue positions, etc. The argument (I'm not sure I agree, but I think there's an argument) is that twitter, fb, etc have crossed some sort of the threshold where there is a lot at stake.


This is a good point. I think some people treat facebook and twitter as their main news source which is why I drew that correlation.

The twitter blast out by politicians is a new thing, that hasn't really existed before from what I can see. It's common to try to draw a parallel to something that arleady exists (like I did). I think you're right that my example was a miss.


Cheers bargl.

I don't think it is a clear miss. The way we think of law, and right-and-wrong generally, tends to be principled. Rules and laws as embodiments of abstract principles that are consistently true.

That's what the analogy does is check for inconsistencies. That's what lawyers do, argue by analogy. High judges can invalidate laws if they create inconsistencies.

But... the laws aren't really abstract truths. They tend to be point solutions to specific problems.

Social media has created new realities that just didn't exist in as meaningful a firm before.

Personally, I'm happy that proprietary social media platforms just get replaced by open platforms a la WWW or email. There's no real reason to have a multi billion dollar company behind twitter, text messaging and such.

That'd make the choice between bureaucratic or monopolistic control moot.


> de-platforming someone can be argued to be a violation of free speech

That's not what free spech is about.

Free speech means that governments will not arrest you for what you say. It doesn't mean that you can say everything you want on a platform, run by a third entity, just as you can't demand to have an article by some crazy guy printed in a newspaper.


> One of my problems with these platforms is that de-platforming someone can be argued to be a violation of free speech (there are valid counter arguments as well).

Dude. Full sentence quotes please. I should have used a comma.


Suppose Facebook or Twitter were incorporated as a non-US company. Would the US gov still be able to regulate them?


If they want to accept money from US based companies.

Otherwise if you want to accept US money and manipulate US public opinions you can get put on lists of businesses that are prohibited to deal with.


Can Europe regulate google?


How about Google? Force them to give us a search engine for 50$ a month and Android for 100$ a piece?


How do you force someone to sell you a product they don't sell?


What they sell should not be saleable?


What do you mean? Are you suggesting we force Google to offer a paid version?

"Law number XXXX: Google must offer a paid version of its search engine to end users".


Why not law YYYY, you cannot own the search engine, video distribution platform and ad platform at the same time. The ad platform must be spun off as a separate non-colluding entity.


"non-colluding entity"

Colluding? What the heck are you talking about?


Would that be so bad? Maybe with a forget me feature in the US as well?


It's an opinion piece, not a news article, keep that in mind.


How exactly could they be regulated?


With a law.

Perhaps one saying that they cannot ban or block anybody or their content, except for content already deemed illegal by a governing body or upon receipt of a court order.


The case is getting stronger for a balkanization of the Internet.

I don’t want the US or the UK to censorship my Internet, any more than I want China.

It’s bad enough that nudes are being censored due to US companies pushing the US conservative Christian values on the rest of the world, while violence gets a free pass.

Also do you really think that the fake news promoting Trump or Brexit would get censored? That would be so extremely naive.


Yes.




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