back to article Make Facebook, Twitter, Google et al liable for daft garbage netizens post online – US Senator

US Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) has a plan to save democracy from technology, including making social media platforms liable for what their users post. In a proposal provided to The Register, he suggests revising the safe harbor provision of the Communications Decency Act, known as Section 230. Section 230 immunizes service …

  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


    All these sound like sensible suggestions:

    Remove revenge porn - but only with a court order, not using it as a way to ban all naughty bits

    Understands that the platforms don't want to block bots, because it boosts their viewers, so need to be forced to.

    Recognise that they manage to overcome the technical difficulties of VPN and spoofing when it's protecting their streaming service so they can put the same effort into foreign political advertising

    Is the senator actually a foreign agent (possibly of e'reg) ?

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Suspicous

      Maybe he should be added the list that has only one other Senator who has a grasp of tech: Ron Wyden. The rest of government (elected and unelected) doesn't seem to have a clue.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Suspicous

      Common sense reform proposals never pass congress. Either you have lobbyists getting involved and watering it down so much it is meaningless, or wanna-be do gooders who don't think it goes far enough insert amendments so extreme they doom its passage.

  2. Mayday

    I wonder...

    If Remington, Winchester, Colt and co should be held liable for school shootings too then?

    1. Steve Knox

      Re: I wonder...

      Of course they should. And this bill will pass at about the same time as the bill holding them liable.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: I wonder...

      Imagine some children entering a school through a metal detector which bleebs for each of them. There are three bored security guards paying no attention as children with bigger and bigger guns pass. Finally a child passes without setting off the metal detector. Two guards rush in and rugby tackle the child. The third grabs the child's backpack and pulls out ... a video game.

    3. LDS Silver badge

      Re: I wonder...

      Would you sell a gun, poison, etc. to someone who is advertising explicitly is going to commit an homicide, or even suicide?

      Unlike other goods, the intent of media is usually clear, and verifiable.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I wonder...

        Would you sell a gun, poison, etc. to someone who is advertising explicitly is going to commit an homicide, or even suicide?

        Unlike other goods, the intent of media is usually clear, and verifiable.

        When a millennial says 'OMG, I literally want to kill myself', what they actually mean is they're mildly irritated by something that has appeared on their news feed.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I wonder...

          When a millennial says 'OMG, I literally want to kill myself'...

          I would "literally" help them do it too if I heard this abuse of the mother tongue.

    4. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. Gene Cash Silver badge

    This would be GREAT

    All the social media platforms would shut down and there would be a lot less hate flowing everywhere. Win-win.

    1. FuzzyWuzzys

      Re: This would be GREAT

      World peace, poverty and hunger eradicated and cats and dogs living together, it would be anarchy within 24 hours!

  4. Zwuramunga

    Ministry Of Truth

    You are unauthorized to have that knowledge. You are under arrest.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    It's the easy way out...

    This is not for the greater good or anything: this is only to make things easier on the government and those forces which should enforce our laws and deal with any misdoings. And even though I seriously dislike social media myself I really hope they won't cave into this nonsense.

    Because lets ask ourselves this simple question: what about the people who committed the 'crime' in the first place? Wouldn't it make more sense to hold them accountable for their own actions? Isn't the whole "enforce the law" concept also driven by trying to educate the offenders in hopes that they'll change their ways? OR... is this secretly really about trying to cash in as much fines as possible?

    Thing is: I see parallels with some Dutch laws, though unrelated. Here in Holland it's illegal for a minor to purchase (!) or own alcohol. And it's also illegal for a shop to sell such substances to a minor, this law was added at a later time. Yet as a result law enforcement is currently more busy with trying to catch shops from doing wrong (even while getting minors to perform a felony in trying to buy alcohol...which is illegal in Holland because the police are not allowed to stage stuff like that).

    So here's the result: when a minor is caught to have bought alcohol illegally then in most cases it's the shop who will be fined while the minor is usually left alone. What signal does that sent out exactly?

    In my opinion this is no different. Because it's a lot of effort to try and chase down the offenders they're just going to target the messengers because that's a whole lot easier. Whatever happened to holding someone accountable for their own actions?

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

      Re: It's the easy way out...

      Well, no.

      The problems are many, but the main one is that this kind of spread of misinformation falls between the cracks of traditional legislation. The SNS (social networking) companies aren't counted as traditional media, so no count is made of the amount of pound-euro-dollars that are spent on it during political campaigning. That means less accountability and less transparency in what is supposed to be a free vote. We presumably still have those.

      The other, related, problem of this "social media as God" (of the gaps) situation is that if we want to regulate it, we quite reasonably want to do so in a way that causes the least amount of harm to the existing body of jurisprudence. That's what the proposal is mainly about: we don't want "proper" reporters (like on this site) to fall foul of new laws, but we do want to clean up the "wild west" situation where actors hide behind a flag of convenience (like "aggregator", "conduit", "advertising agency", "charity", etc.) that shield them from accountability when it comes to spreading political messages for profit and for their own vested interest.

      Obviously, drawing a distinction between "proper" journalism and these "bad actors" isn't easy, especially given that much of the legitimate media is increasingly consumed online. Maybe this third class of "media organ" isn't strictly necessary. Maybe we just have to look into tightening up controls on how political funding is reported, which agencies can receive charity status, or improve across-the-board transparency of ownership and funding structures (and not just for political campaigning, though this is an overarching problem that is much more difficult to solve).

      On the whole, though, I applaud the thinking of the report. It shouldn't be too hard for legitimate interests to engage in public conversation to explain why they shouldn't be tarred with the same brush as the kinds of bad actors that we know are out there. I think that they would be pushing against an open door with this particular committee/working group, and their public would no doubt also be receptive to arriving at some sort of workable solution.

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

        Re: It's the easy way out...

        Oops. I was obviously away with the fairies on that post. I thought I was commenting on this fine article.

        Obligatory USA reference

    2. JLV

      Re: It's the easy way out...

      >What signal does that sent out exactly?

      Specifically re selling alcohol to minors (and not falling in the trap of generalizing to the subject of this article) it sends a rather salutory message:

      those who would have financial incentives to sell to minors are discouraged, financially, from doing so. While it would be pointless, costly to pursue the minors doing so, who being minors and committing minor offences in this case, would generally be beyond serious punishments.

      Most countries in the West have similar systems because it is simple, cost-effective and targets a small set of intermediaries.

      What would _you_ suggest? Juvenile prison, fines to the parents? Iran would do caning, but I won’t even suggest you’d suggest it.

      While I have my doubts re this bill, your comparison with liquor regulations is rather weak.

    3. Guus Leeuw

      Re: It's the easy way out...

      Dear Sir,

      well luckily, these laws that you mention are only in force in Holland. Saner parts of The Netherlands might have saner laws, then, I suspect?

      Best regards,


    4. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: It's the easy way out...

      The other alternative is for people to have a certain intelligence level on the web. Seems we have an internet of users who follow, repeat, and generally believe the most idiotic things. In this case, the parents are derelict in their parenting or lack the skills to discern BS from non-BS.

      Since the above probably won't happen, legislation seems to be a possible answer. The catch is making it reasonable and intelligent legislation. Here in the States, that's probably impossible given the knowledge of most of these people. As evidence I offer the grilling of Zuck by Congress which was basically a total sham as the CongressCritters had no clue.

    5. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: It's the easy way out...

      Because lets ask ourselves this simple question: what about the people who committed the 'crime' in the first place? Wouldn't it make more sense to hold them accountable for their own actions?

      I would argue there are two sets of people committing a crime; the people who posted the illegal content, and those who host it and profit from it. All the social networks use algorithms to choose what content is displayed to you, it is not straight up UGC as they keep claiming.

      If a photographer takes a privacy invading photo*, then they are/maybe committing a crime. If that photo is then chosen to be published by a newspaper, the newspaper is then also liable.

      Certainly in EU/UK, the free lunch of claiming "Hey, we have nothing to do with what is there, its just user generated content" is almost over. They choose what gets displayed to you, and they profit from the ads shown alongside it; they will soon be listed as publishers** of that content.

      * In jurisdictions where that matters

      ** perhaps an intermediate stage between "UGC" and "Publisher", but claiming "UGC! Safe Harbor!" is going going gone

  6. Winkypop Silver badge


    1. By law, tag all social media content and, if not auto-blocked by users, make it display a warning message. "Here be shite"...

    2. Ignore. Live. enjoy.

  7. Death_Ninja


    I never understood how FB and friends got away with it.

    In the days of BBS's the sysop was liable for the content. In the later days of forums, the forum owner was liable for the content.

    There were plenty of system owners who got in serious trouble for failing to moderate the content created by their users.

    I don't get how Facebook or Twitter etc are not liable for the content on their systems. Claiming to be an ISP doesn't cut it - ISP is someone who provides network connectivity, not computer systems to write drivel on.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm

      Do we have proof of this? And how does this kind of moderation survive a First Amendment challenge?

      1. Death_Ninja

        Re: Hmmm

        No idea about foreign jurisdictions, but under UK publishing law the publisher was always responsible for the content of the published article.

        Back in those days BBS and forums were considered publication.

        In the UK written work promoting terrorism, racism, sex with minors/animals, crime, liable/slander etc aren't allowed even under "free speech". Other countries may have different views on the matter.

        Plenty of sysops/admins back in the day had their systems shut down because of it and you used to have to actively censor content.

        Today, if you have a website with user comments, you can be in the same place - I'm sure even El Reg protect their backsides against that too.

      2. John McCallum

        Re: Hmmm

        As I understand the First Amendment it only protects one from Government Censorship, not private censorship as on a forum Etc.. With the usual caveat that IANAL or a USian.

        1. dew3

          Re: Hmmm

          "As I understand the First Amendment it only protects one from Government Censorship, not private censorship as on a forum Etc.. "

          Absolutely correct. It is a bit fascinating how so many USAians seem to think a constitutional provision that starts with "Congress shall make no law..." can somehow prevent private people/companies from making decisions to moderate content on their own property.

    2. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm

      "I never understood how FB and friends got away with it."

      They can afford more effective (I hesitate to use the word 'better') lawyers.

    3. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm

      What I don't understand especially is why they are not liable for "paid for" contents.

      I may understand that unpaid contents are only under the responsibility of the user uploading it - as long as there are no money (or other remuneration) involved.

  8. Christoph

    "making AI algorithms subject to verification and transparency;"

    That will ban very large numbers of algorithms which simply cannot be verified - they've been generated by evolving, on an enormous data set.

    You might be able to test them for built in bias (though you have to suspect it before you can test for it) but you can't verify them or explain how they work.

    Whether banning such algorithms is a good thing is a different question.

  9. tim 13

    The headline made it seem like the another ramdom anti social media push from a a no-nothing politician. Actually, many* of the proposals seem both sensible and technically achievable.

    *Many does not mean all.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Road to Hell on Earth is Paved With Unintended Consequences

    If it's a rule good enough to impose upon social media, it's surely a rule good enough to impose upon the politicians themselves.

    Still no word from the office of Senator Bernie Sanders regarding the actions of his supporter James T. Hodgkinson, who opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball team practice in an attempt to assassinate Representative Steve Scalise.

    1. 's water music Silver badge

      Re: The Road to Hell on Earth is Paved With Unintended Consequences

      Still no word from the office of Senator Bernie Sanders regarding the actions of his supporter James T. Hodgkinson, who opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball team

      o rly?

  11. Milton


    Some laudably intended and even slightly tech-literate suggestions in there—something of a miracle coming from a politician—but I still think we're fiddling with deckchairs here, tinkering at the margins with rules that will have, at best, incremental benefits.

    I've suggested before and will say it again: we need to deal with the two fundamental problems that were virtually built in to social media right from the outset: free services; and anonymity.

    Dealing with anonymity first: it's beyond obvious that a large minority of people are cowardly lice who wouldn't have dared to scream their hate, bigotry and ignorance in public 20 years ago. Now they can be anonymous cowards of the worst kind, spewing their bile here and there, and worse, nucleating an audience of like-"minded" wretches who raise the temperature of their own little echo chamber until they are repeating increasingly hysterical nonsense to each other and believing it. There were and are abundant reasons not to want Hillary as president, but the infantile garbage about Pizzagate, twisted stories about the Foundation, the incessant lies and conspiracy nonsense ... a sizable chunk of the social media using public sounded like mental patients.

    I accept that the loss of anonymity will have some consequences too, but the price of it is too high: it is too much of a shield for people who, in truth, should be too scared to spout their filth in public, for fear of entirely justified opprobrium.

    As to "free", perhaps it is radical, but I believe governments should create and enforce a ban on any non-government entity from collecting, holding, processing or analysing any user data that is not strictly required for operational usage. Go back to the bare bones of name, address, recent orders, payments, delivery options, complaints and fixes. Nothing else. No profiling, no selling of customer data, no deep analyses, nada.

    This means that Facebook, Google and the other parasites will have to earn revenue in another way: they'll have to charge for their services. It needn't be expensive. Perhaps £20/year for Facebook? A tenner buys you credit for 5,000 Google searches? And suddenly the users, instead of being the product and treated like mugs, become customers, with a right to privacy and dignity.

    I suspect that a lot of mostly good things would flow from such enforcement, some of them surprising: for example, competition would open up. Advertising would become more expensive and would therefore have to improve: driven from the current atrocious standards, which are even worse than radio, to something more like a good TV channel, where ads are sometimes even funny, and clever.

    I understand why this notion will attract a lot of initial and reasonable scepticism, but I have the feeling that if smart people put their thinking caps on and address the deep systemic flaws that make the web such a toxic place these days ... great improvements might yet be possible,

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Deckchairs

      If the price of anonymity is too high, then the price of The First Amendment is too high, because anonymity can easily be argued on Freedom of Speech grounds: attribution easily leads to squelching; this the "calls will be confidential" assurance.

      As for personal information, they'll probably just find another way: probably by starting an offshoot or something that makes collecting the information essential to their operation. Well, either that or get a new government voted in. Look what we got now.

    2. Jim-234

      Without the ability to be Anonymous, you cannot have free speech

      In order to have the ability for free speech and the ability to freely discuss topics, you have to have anonymity or you will find that nobody can safely discuss anything but the most mundane of topics.

      The social media companies want to push "Verified" in a big way because like facebook, they use that to then directly invade your privacy and sell you individually to the highest bidder.

      In addition with the rise of endless data storage, people are being attacked and pilloried for discussions decades earlier and applying modern hysteria over words or assumed insults to vastly different times.

      We are fast becoming a much better version of 1984 than ever imagined.

      Today people are attacked and the mobs of group think try to destroy the lives of people simply for having possibly at one time said a word when discussing it as part of a list of words that should not be said as they could be hurtful.

      Now imagine if you had to say only what would not get you in trouble for the next 80 years across a wide variety of places and cultures, and worry about fanatics who vilify even talking about the things that should not be talked about.

      Without anonymity, you won't be able to survive and have intelligent meaningful discussions about important social or cultural or historical matters.

      What also if your government takes a dim view of being criticized and would like to skim through social media to determine anyone not speaking in favour of the government?

      The "Social Media" empires are happy to let people say how much they hate the current president of the USA... but did you happen to notice they seem to be also perfectly happy to fall in line with Chinese censors without so much as a protest? When the stick gets big enough, they will turn on their users and side with the Government to eliminate dissent.

      1. Death_Ninja

        Re: Without the ability to be Anonymous, you cannot have free speech


        I think you make a good point here - eliminating anonymity would obviously reduce shite postings, but equally cause the "I once said that" problems that can cause issue - particularly for the youth who like all youth from all time say and do very silly things they later regret.

        I am lucky in that being older, my youthful thoughts and deeds are not available to my employer to review now I am my forties.

        It doesn't need to have been something totally outrageous and stupid to later tar you for life.

        Look at politicians and other public figures. Their words have always been quotable and discoverable and they suffer from the backlash of history regularly and they are usually careful what they say. Average Joe doesn't operate in that world.

  12. Drew Scriver Silver badge

    Those who live in glass houses...

    It's a mixed bag.

    In related news, Senator Warner called on his own party to remove the inaccurate claim from its web site that it was Democrats who succeeded in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 despite vehement opposition from the GOP. He added that even though it may be hard to accept for his party, it is time to admit that it was in fact members of his own party who formed the strongest opposition to passage of the bill. "Continued proliferation of inaccurate information on our own party's web site is awkward in light of my bill."

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Those who live in glass houses...

      They'll just counter that the Democrats of 1964 were the opposite of the Democrats of today. Remember that it was around the time of Richard Nixon that the parties did their switcheroo.

  13. bc895xlt


    Social media is a play toy for the rich kids that flunked chemistry in college, it doesn't take much to woo the masses. If you believe everything you see in print, TV or the internet, you have a problem!

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: C'mon!

      I believe you.

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