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Democrats propose a comprehensive Facebook regulation

July 30 · Issue #175 · View online
The Interface
As Congress has paid increasing attention to social networks over the past year, a recurring theme in the coverage has been how little lawmakers appear to understand them. The first Facebook hearing, which was tied to Congress’ investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, played as pure theater. At a subsequent hearing, senators at least asked better questions.
But despite several more go-rounds, both here and abroad, it has been unclear what lawmakers intend to do about any of it. Mark Zuckerberg is on the record saying he supports certain kinds of regulation. But so far, it hasn’t been clear what aggressive regulation of Facebook would even look like.
It’s now much clearer — or rather, it would be clear, in a world in which Democrats had the power to regulate. On Monday, Axios’ David McCabe published a fascinating policy paper from the office of Sen. Mark Warner. The paper outlines a comprehensive regulatory regime that would touch virtually every aspect of social networks.
The paper is notably well versed both on the dangers posed by misinformation and the trade-offs that come with increased regulation, especially to privacy and free speech. It’s less a polemic than a comprehensive starting point for discussion — and as talk of regulation spreads around the world, I imagine it will prove influential.
So what exactly do Warner and his staff propose? The ideas are designed to address three broad categories: misinformation, disinformation, and the exploitation of these technologies; privacy and data protection; and competition. (On the last point, the good news for tech platforms is that even Warner isn’t calling for them to be broken up. The paper does not, in other words, challenge the idea that social networks of these size should exist.)
Here are some highlights of the ideas presented.
Misinformation, disinformation, and the exploitation of technology. Ideas here include requiring networks to label automated bots as such; requiring platforms to verify identities, despite the significant consequences to free speech; legally requiring platforms to make regular disclosures about how many fake accounts they’ve deleted; ending Section 230 protections for defamation; legally requiring large platforms to create APIs for academic research; spending more money to fight cyber threats from Russia and other state-level actors.
Privacy and data protection. Create a US version of the GDPR; designate platforms as “information fiduciaries” with the legal responsibility of protecting our data; empowering the Federal Trade Commission to make rules around data privacy; create a legislative ban on dark patterns that trick users into accepting terms and conditions without reading them; allow the government to audit corporate algorithms.
Competition: Require tech companies to continuously disclose to consumers how their data is being used; require social-network data to be made portable; require social networks to be interoperable; designate certain products as “essential facilities” and demand that third parties get fair access to them.
It’s a lot to take in — and a lot of fun to consider! I recommend reading the entire report, and discussing it with your children over dinner.
In America, the report remains mostly a pipe dream. But around the world, similar ideas are gaining momentum. Over the weekend, a British parliamentary committee recommended imposing much stricter guidelines on social networks. Here’s David D. Kirkpatrick in the New York Times:
Among other proposals, the committee called for the regulators who oversee television and radio to set standards for accuracy and impartiality on social media sites, for the establishment of a “working group of experts” to rate the credibility of websites or accounts “so that people can see at first glance the level of verification,” and for a new tax on internet companies that would pay for expanded oversight.
To address influence campaigns, the committee called for the mandatory public disclosure of the sponsors behind any online political advertisement or paid communication, as required in traditional news media outlets — an idea that was proposed in Congress as well.
These proposals remain far from becoming law — but perhaps not as far as tech platforms would wish.

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The FBI Set Up A Task Force To Counter Russian Trolls. So Far, It's Been Silent.
Facebook’s Next Privacy Challenge: Less Data to Target Ads
It's Rubens vs. Facebook in fight over artistic nudity
Tech Bloodletting Nears $300 Billion Since Facebook Reported
Twitter is funding college professors to audit its platform for toxicity
Twitter says that it will begin suspending repeatedly abusive Periscope commenters
WhatsApp’s new group video calling feature is now live
Domino’s Is Bringing Its Pizzas Into Augmented Reality With a National Snapchat Campaign
Facebook Lenses
The Cost of Policing Facebook and Twitter Is Spooking Wall St. It Shouldn’t.
We're Lucky Mark Zuckerberg Is in Charge
And finally ...
John Oliver fixes Facebook’s apology ad to remind you that the company still doesn’t care about you
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