Last month, CreativeFuture asked you, our followers, what you thought about platform responsibility. Little did we know that, in the meantime, the issue would start taking over the front pages of our newspapers and websites!
In a nutshell, the issue is whether Google, Facebook, and their Silicon Valley peers should take responsibility for the ways their platforms are used to violate our laws and harm society.
Even before the House and Senate passed landmark legislation to demand accountability from the tech giants and even before Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica mess exploded, we asked your views on a few simple questions that came down to one thing: do you believe that Google and Facebook should be more responsible?
The answer, overwhelmingly, was that you do – and you had a lot to add in response. Here are just some of your comments:
- “The organizations who own these platforms make enormous profits. They have a responsibility to make sure the platforms are not being used to harm others.”
- “They have the greatest ability to do so. And a moral responsibility. Just because it’s a newer technology doesn’t exempt them.”
- “Because if they are able to control it, and I believe that they can, then they should be held accountable and responsible if they don’t.”
- “They are providing the service that is being used for these malicious acts. They are responsible! They need to find a solution and be held accountable!”
- “Violations of the law should be prosecuted. To avoid prosecution, they should take proactive steps to prevent violations.”
- “They created these platforms, they should be responsible for them. They are beyond wealthy from them and can afford to police them. U.S. laws should apply everywhere in the U.S., including [the internet]!”
- “Times change, services change, service providers change. Rules must keep up with changes.”
- “Hostile foreign governments are using internet social platforms to publish untrue propaganda in order to destabilize our nation … if they can’t or won’t [monitor their platforms], they should be heavily fined and shut down. It is their responsibility for doing business in this country.”
- “Responsibility is part of having a business.”
- “[Google and Facebook] are no different from any other corporation which has the responsibility not to enable breaking the law. They are complicit and just a guilty as those breaking the law.”
- “I can’t believe we even have to ask this question. I am sick and tired of corporations bearing no responsibility for the effects of their services on people. If a crime is occurring and the corporation looks the other way, that cannot be allowed any longer.”
- “They don’t want the responsibility of accountability because complying would eat into profits with no returns. So, it will NEVER happen unless it is legislated.”
- “The internet has become perhaps the single most important source of information and communication in the world. It cannot just rake in profits and not be responsible for what they have created.”
This week, on April 10 and 11, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify twice before Congress on the issues facing his company, and Silicon Valley generally. We expect that Zuckerberg will be very well prepped by his army of lawyers. We anticipate that he will try to reassure Congress that Facebook is doing all it can to (1) protect the privacy of its users; (2) prevent foreign influence on its advertising networks; and (3) stop rampant violations of the law from being carried out on their platform.
But Congress should not settle for head-pats and platitudes. They need to ask some hard and direct questions. We hope they will include the following…
Americans want their right to privacy restored.
Prior to 1996, Americans had a well-established, offline right to privacy based on the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and several strong federal privacy statutes passed in 1974, 1974, 1978, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1994, and 1996.
In 1996, Congress also unwittingly and effectively set in motion an exceptional erosion of Americans’ established offline right to privacy when it passed the Telecom Act, which specially exempted and immunized Internet platforms from normal governmental accountability and consumer protection responsibilities.
Over two decades, this Wild West Internet industrial policy, which has been interpreted by Internet platforms and the courts, has eroded bit by bitAmericans established offline right to privacy witha de facto U.S. online privacy piracy policy today.
In practice, America’s Internet law has transmogrified into open season on American consumers’ personal data. That’s because the U.S. Government effectively immunized Internet platforms’ in advance, from civil liability for the collection, use, and monetization of personal information online, that otherwise could be illegal to do offline.
[This is a highly insightful post by professors at the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia (ARW readers will recall that Terry hosted the first Artist Rights Symposium a couple months ago where I spoke and of course is where David Lowery teaches. Gunton & Hendrix make the case for regulating Facebook which make for required reading alongside Jonathan Taplin’s work. (Prof. Taplin keynoted the Artist Rights Symposium.)]
On Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg finally ended days of silence and set out on a media tour to explain Facebook’s role in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. CNN’s Laurie Segall asked him if he was worried about Facebook facing government regulation after what he admitted was a massive breach of trust between the platform and its users. “I actually am not sure we shouldn’t be regulated,” he said. “I think in general technology is an increasingly important trend in the world. I think the question is more what is the right regulation rather than ‘yes or no should we be regulated?’”
It is certainly time for a robust international conversation about how best to regulate social media platforms, and data privacy more generally. Major technology companies — including Facebook, Google, Twitter, SNAP and others — define the information ecosystem in much of the world. Barely regulated and rarely held accountable, these companies are completely transforming the public sphere. While these platforms present new opportunities to connect people around the world, they also create new spaces for bad actors that wish to spread misinformation, encourage terrorism or incite violence, engage in online harassment, steal personal data, restrict free speech and suppress dissent.
As this urgent conversation gets underway, here are some factors to consider when imagining new regulations…
A group of Silicon Valley technologists who were early employees at Facebook and Google, alarmed over the ill effects of social networks and smartphones, are banding together to challenge the companies they helped build.
The cohort is creating a union of concerned experts called the Center for Humane Technology. Along with the nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media, it also plans an anti-tech addiction lobbying effort and an ad campaign at 55,000 public schools in the United States.
The campaign, titled The Truth About Tech, will be funded with $7 million from Common Sense and capital raised by the Center for Humane Technology. Common Sense also has $50 million in donated media and airtime from partners including Comcast and DirecTV. It will be aimed at educating students, parents and teachers about the dangers of technology, including the depression that can come from heavy use of social media.
Facebook pays no royalties for the music that gives significant value to the platform. That’s often a surprising proposition for artists and songwriters, much less the general public.
Yet it is true—hitmakers and new artists, pros and amateurs alike do not get a penny from Facebook and the company doesn’t even attempt to license their work. Why should a multibillion dollar multinational corporation that anchors a large piece of the Internet economy and whose founder is planning on running for President of the United States get to pay music makers in exposure bucks?
The answer is that Facebook, like YouTube and many other user-generated content platforms hide behind the legacy DMCA “safe harbor” and its nonnegotiable, unconscionable, adhesion contract that controls the use of its platform.
Rumor has it that Facebook is evidently coming to the table and is in at least semi-active negotiations with at least some labels and publishers.
One may well ask what took so long—but if it were not for Universal Music Group’s pursuit of Facebook’s infringements through DMCA notices, it’s likely that Facebook would be blithely rolling on its monopolist juggernaut.
On the other hand, this is actually a good time to be negotiating these deals give the Congressional scrutiny of Facebook’s involvement in the 2016 Presidential election campaigns. We have the benefit of public statements by Facebook representatives under oath regarding what they can do and what they so far refuse to do which may come in handy in licensing negotiations.
These negotiations with rights owners may result in what will seem like a very big pop of up-front cash—but is it? And whatever the number, how will that money be distributed to the artists and songwriters that make it happen?
GARCIN: …So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is—other people!
In 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s prophetic farewell address famously warned of the growing “military industrial complex”:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Given Eisenhower’s history as a military officer of the highest rank, Ike knew of what he spoke only too well.
In 2017, President Barack Obama may well have given his own prophetic warning of a different unholy alliance between government and industry, but this time there won’t be a song written about it called “Masters of War,” except maybe “Masters of the Internet” (by Ceramic Dog/Marc Ribot) or “March of the Billionaires” by Cracker (written by Faragher-Hickman- Lowery-Urbano).
The President warned in his farewell address (“the great sorting”):
For too many of us, it has become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods, or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds. Surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. The rise of naked partisanship and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splitting of our media into a channel for every taste. All this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. Increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start only accepting information, whether its true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the information that is out there.
As Maya Kosoff reflects on President Obama’s warning in Vanity Fair:
Today, 62 percent of U.S. adults say they get their news from social media, often relying on news stories shared within their own self-selected digital bubbles. Facebook, which has finally accepted some culpability for its role in disseminating unchecked misinformation, is still experiencing growing pains as it evolves, whether willingly or not, from a social network into a media company. But the problem runs deeper. Studies in recent years suggest media fragmentation has increased partisanship—that is, paradoxically, the vast array of news outlets at our disposal today have given way to more explicitly ideological ones and have helped contribute to an increase in partisanship and polarized political opinion. [Emphasis mine]
Facebook’s own internal studies developed in Facebook’s “Core Data Science Team” as well as medical research into Internet addiction confirms what Sean Parker revealed this week–Facebook intentionally profits from addiction. And as Professor Adam Alter teaches us about behavioral addictions, the addiction that Sean Parker tells the world was perfected by Facebook is every bit as addictive as substance addiction:
People have been addicted to substances for thousands of years, but for the past two decades, we’ve also been hooked on technologies, like Instagram, Netflix, Facebook, Fitbit, Twitter, and email—platforms we’ve adopted because we assume they’ll make our lives better. These inventions have profound upsides, but their appeal isn’t an accident. Technology companies and marketers have teams of engineers and researchers devoted to keeping us engaged. They know how to push our buttons, and how to coax us into using their products for hours, days, and weeks on end.
Mark Zuckerberg would have us believe that the true purpose of Facebook is to bring the world closer together. I’m a skeptic, and here’s why.
The good thing about Facebook is that it brings people together in new communities. The bad thing about Facebook is that some of those people previously only met on Death Row. And as Sartre said, hell is other people.
The billionaire and former Facebook president Sean Parker now says he regrets helping turn the social network into a global phenomenon. The site grew by “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” with its greed for attention and the careful reward system it created to keep users addicted.
“We need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever… It’s a social-validation feedback loop… a vulnerability in human psychology,” he admitted to news site Axios.
Parker’s backing was instrumental in turning the Harvard campus-only software into a global phenomenon by introducing Zuckerberg to Silicon Valley venture capital. (Parker [“A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars”] was played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network.)