A bipartisan embrace of child protection measures means bad news for the Internet A “Digital Regulatory Commission” that could shut down social media companies for failing to enact “best business practices” to protect children. Require social media companies to monitor and limit the amount of time minors spend on them Completely banning people under 16 from social media. Increased civil liability for technology companies. A few bad ideas were proposed yesterday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Protecting Our Kids Online,” where some of the proposals included legislation that had previously been introduced (such as the EARN IT Act and the Kids Online Safety Act) as some still-to-be-seen measures.
In Congress and in states, lawmakers have recently come together on child protection issues — from “grooming” to social media addiction, mental health issues and more — such as The Reasons to give the government more control over online speech and business practices.
This is a worrying development. The last time we saw politicians focus on protecting children from the Internet, we had FOSTA—a law that gutted everything from dating ads to sex worker rights advocacy, LGBTQ content, and adult sexual expression online. It’s a law that weakens Section 230—sometimes called the “First Amendment of the Internet”—and severely chills free expression on the Internet as life builds. less secure It is difficult for sex workers and for the authorities to try stop sexual exploitation
Since the passage of FOSTA in 2018, politicians and anti-tech activists have begun trying new strategies to justify more regulation of internet companies, content and users.
Safety and mental health of minors in Those justifications are, but only one of many angles—alleged antitrust violations, political bias, misinformation, election interference, hate speech, gun violence and more—that have been banned as reasons for breaking up, reforming or canceling big tech companies. Section 230, regulating algorithms, creates backdoors in encrypted communications, and otherwise gives federal bureaucrats more control over all things digital.
The results have not been very good in the last few years. Some of these factors appeal to one party or the other but lack bipartisanship. Some seem to resonate with the extreme online crowd but not the normie kind. Some find bipartisan political support but lack legal merit, such as using existing antitrust laws to attack tech companies (a tactic popular among Republicans and Democrats but failing in the courts).
But “protecting the children” is a timeless strategy for generating both bipartisan political support and the passion of even apolitical Americans. This has proven to be a fine excuse, time and time again, for any number of regulations that people will accept under any circumstances when invited.
For many people, all reason is lost when you call children in danger. Politicians no longer need to concern themselves with details such as how their plans will actually protect children, how they will minimize unintended consequences, or whether these plans are even constitutional.
Today I’m introducing legislation to set a 16-year-old age requirement for opening a social media account. Protect kids online
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) February 14, 2023
If a law is portrayed as protecting children, many people will not ask questions. And those who do can be vilified as indifferent to the well-being of their children – or worse. This all but guarantees that even absolutist legislators will have to go along.
And even if these plans are ultimately proven unconstitutional — parts of FOSTA still may be — it will take years to get there, by which time the damage has already been done.
The more Republicans and Democrats coalesce around child protection as a major concern, the bleaker the future looks for those who care about free speech, privacy and pluralism online.
New York “hate speech” law likely unconstitutional:
Fed. The judge held that New York law requires social media sites to publish a complaint and response policy for hate speech (what the state calls “hateful conduct”), possibly violating the First Amendment.
Preliminary injunction granted. https://t.co/IuJAqo0s5p pic.twitter.com/Qqizlg3exD
— Gabriel Mallor (@gabriellemallor) February 15, 2023
Federal Trade Commissioner resigns in disgrace for FTC chair. Commissioner Christine Wilson made the announcement The Wall Street Journal Tuesday that he is leaving the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). His Argument: The tactics used by Chair Leena Khan. Accusing Khan of “contempt for the rule of law and due process”, Wilson wrote:
I refuse to give any further indication of legitimacy, leaving their efforts alone. Accordingly, I will soon resign as an FTC Commissioner.
Since Ms. Khan’s confirmation in 2021, my staff and I have spent countless hours uncovering her abuse of government power. That task has become increasingly difficult as he has consolidated power within the chairman’s office, breaking with decades of bipartisan precedent and weakening the commission structure written into law by Congress. I’ve tried to provide transparency and facilitate accountability through speeches and statements, but I’ve faced constraints on the information I can disclose—many legitimate, but some created by Ms. Khan and the Democratic majority to avoid embarrassment.
Consider the FTC’s challenge to Meta’s acquisition of Within, a virtual-reality gaming company. Before joining the FTC, Ms. Khan argued that Meta should be blocked from making any future acquisitions and wrote a report on the same issues as a congressional staffer. He will now reportedly sit as an impartial judge and decide whether or not Meta can make the acquisition. Ignoring due process considerations and federal ethics obligations, my Democratic colleagues on the Commission affirmed Ms. Khan’s decision not to recuse herself.
I dissented on the grounds of due process, which requires those sitting in judicial power to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing. The law is clear. In one case, a federal appeals court ruled that an FTC chairman who investigated the same companies, conduct, lines of business and incidents as a committee staffer on Capitol Hill could not then sit as a judge on the FTC to rule on those matters. In two other decisions, the appeals court held that an FTC chairman could not prosecute a case after making statements predicting its outcome. The statements at issue were much milder than Ms Khan’s eventual declaration that all meta acquisitions should be blocked. These cases, with their unusually similar facts, confirm that Ms. Khan’s participation would deny the merging parties their due-process rights.
Wilson gives several other examples of what he sees as a disregard for due process, including:
In November 2022, the commission issued an antitrust enforcement policy statement asserting that the FTC could ignore decades of court rulings and condemn any business conduct the three unelected commissioners find objectionable. If the conduct can be labeled with an offensive adjective—”coercive,” “exploitative,” “abusive,” “restrictive”—it may violate the FTC Act of 1914. But the new policy has no description or definition of these terms, many of which have no context in law. The Commission has made clear that its analysis under the new policy may depart from prior antitrust precedents and that previously lawful conduct is now dubious. In other words, the new policy takes the “I know it when I see it” approach. But due process demands that the line between legal and illegal conduct be clearly drawn, to guide businesses before they face a lawsuit.
Khan made this statement in response: “While we often disagree with Commissioner Wilson, we respect his devotion to his faith and are grateful for his public service. We wish him well in his next endeavors.”
???? Main paper by @Arian Mgalian And Highham is in the press at JEP:G????
Widely adopted “bad news” and “go viral” games don’t actually make people better at spotting misinformation – they just reduce trust in everything????
— David G. Rand (@[email protected]) (@DG_Rand) February 13, 2023
• According to the Mapping Police Violence Database, one in 20 US gun homicides are committed by police. “More than 1,100 people were killed by police in both 2020 and 2021” and “most of these deaths were by police shootings,” notes guardian.
• Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s presidential bid is an unpleasant and confusing mix of MAGA and anti-Donald Trump. Haley’s predicament is that “he’s alienated from what’s left of the pre-Trump Republican establishment by adopting some of his former boss’s personality and policies. But he’s equally unwilling to fully commit to a Trumpian rebranding.” [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis has,” wrote becauseEric Boehm.
• Are mental health awareness efforts contributing to an increase in reported mental health problems?
• “Scare narratives about online misinformation continue to gain traction despite evidence that exaggerates its prevalence and impact,” French researchers warn.