back to article Trump and Biden agree on something – changing Section 230

The White House has said tech platforms should be more competitive and more accountable without specifying how that will be accomplished. In a statement issued after on Thursday after a meeting with rights advocates, academics, government officials, executives from Mozilla and Sonos, and none of the tech giants targeted by …

  1. veti Silver badge

    Publishers and platforms

    I don't think it should be beyond the wit of humanity to draw a clear line between publishers and platforms.

    Usenet, for instance, is a platform. Anyone posts anything, and the platform makes no attempt either to moderate or promote it.

    That's the key. When you promote some content over others, or censor content you don't like, then you are a publisher. That's what publishers do, it's quite literally the only thing they do, and it's exactly what laws about publishers were designed to control. Those laws should apply just as much online as they do in meatspace.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Publishers and platforms

      That's what section 230 currently covers.

      If usenet took down one child porn or terrorism post, then they would no longer be a platform and would be liable for somebody saying something hurtful about your dog

      Section 230 allows a platform to block some posts without becoming a publisher.

      1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

        Re: Publishers and platforms

        The way 230 is written allows a platform to moderate according to preferences, not illegailities. Child porn and terrorism are illegal, and there is a differenxe between calling on people to fight for their rights and calling on people to burn down the city. Fighting for one's rights does not necessarily call for violence or breaking the law, but burning down the city does.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Publishers and platforms

          And 230means they can remove them without a court deciding a specific post is illegal.

          I can't see how, without access to a burning bush, you allow only true posts on your platform. I suppose math forums might be safe.

          1. veti Silver badge

            Re: Publishers and platforms

            230 gives power without responsibility. It means publishers can use things like "recommendation" algorithms, without accepting any responsibility for what they recommend. And they can censor whatever they want, based on criteria that they don't even have to publish, much less defend.

            And the publishers are using these - not exactly "loopholes", more like "whale-sized breaches in the dike" - to make bank. Terry Pratchett, who knew a thing or two about publishers, has a good line about them: their dream is, universally, "to have so much gold in their pockets that they would have to employ two people just to hold their trousers up". Of course they will fight like demons to defend these "rights".

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Publishers and platforms

              > And they can censor whatever they want, based on criteria that they don't even have to publish, much less defend.

              El'reg's total lack of coverage of my daughter's school play shows their frankly ageist and misogynistic censorship of a challenging work of art

          2. This post has been deleted by its author

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

            2. sketharaman

              Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem

              This must be the first time that I'm reading about Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem after studying it in engineering college over 35 years ago!

              1. 42656e4d203239 Silver badge

                Re: Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem

                If the incompleteness theorem your fancy, then have a look at Gödel, Escher, Bach - An Eternal Golden Braid

      2. Lordrobot

        Re: Publishers and platforms

        I am sorry but you have your legal understanding backwards. If the platform edits your content or blocks it they are publishers. If you block content you find reprehensible that is completely within your charge. With Free Speech you may personally reject it but you may not silence it for all just because you find it offensive.

        As for illegality, speech alone is not illegal. Threats of violence can be illegal. What if I practice Voodoo and curse you with a death spell? Is that illegal? Suppose I don't know Voodoo from Boudin... is that illegal?

        What if you are watching a motion picture in a theatre and one of the actors in the film shouts "Fire... run for your lives!" Is that illegal? Each one of your broad attacks on things you find repugnant may just be words, not actions or illegal acts. So before you try to parse the activity of a platform to give them the power of a publisher, you, need to comprehend Neutrality from Activity. Any platform that asserts any censorship for whatever reason is acting as a Publisher.

        Is Drudge a publisher? Yes, he is rewriting the headlines even if he links to content they did not write. What if Drudge only linked articles using the article's headline? He is still a publisher because he has chosen the content to link. That is what a publisher does. When you censor you do the same thing. You are determining content.

        Your dog comment, an attempt at humour was an apple-to-oranges fallacy. When Trump said he wanted to date his underaged daughter was that Child Porn? And what praytell is a Terrorist post? When Trump said Pence should be hung?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Publishers and platforms

      No. A platform is not simply something that let you publish anything anonymously - that's exactly the problem - because then nobody bears any responsibility. Nowhere is ensured that freedom of speech comes without any responsibility for what is said.

      Usenet could work because it was a system used by a small percentage of the overall population and thereby was quite irrelevant. If it had become as much used as Facebook it would have had the same problem.

      I believe that if you host anybody contents on your system anonymously you're exactly a publisher - because you become responsible for the contents published on and by your systems.

      IMHO you are just a platform only if you **sell** services to someone who becomes fully identifiable and then takes the whole responsibility of what it is posted using the rented/bought service.

      Thereby Usenet and Facebook are publisher (unless Facebook sells specific services to customers which post under they own names and brands) - a hosting services that sells you a VM to host your own site is not and it is a "platform".

      It's like a newspaper publish a letter from someone - the newspaper has full responsibility of what it publish. On the other a printing service can't be held liable for what the newspaper or anybody else ask them to print - unless it knows it is illegal - i.e. printing money or fake documents.

    4. Lordrobot

      Re: Publishers and platforms

      For a non-barrister, you did a most excellent job pinpointing the distinction between a "disinterested" platform and one that has an expressed interest.

      The line of this gets crossed with outright vulgarity and anonymity. Do you want an anonymous voice defaming someone or a company or product? Defamation is not free speech. For pubic persons, the bar is quite high to defame them and requires proof of malice and damages.

      This is where you really get mired down. A poster insults a race, or a religion... That is free speech but often offensive to large swathes of the population. But there are solutions to this...

      Most platforms such as DISCUS provide for blocking persons who's adventures in free speech are flatly offensive to a reader. That is not censorship. The foul post remains but an offended reader does not have to read it.

      But then we come to your point. Suppose I use the word "Shoot" on a platform and the platform itself censors me. That then fall into your calculus and they should be regarded as publishers. They are in effect editing content.

      In Sum, I agree wholeheartedly with your pinpoint distinction of censorship and a platform. Such platforms are publishers, content editors, etc. But I also think that readers must be empowered to block posters they find offensive for any reason.

      Defamation is the tricky one because of the various legal standards, a public vs a private person, a professional. Defamation per se and Defamation per quod. In this case, it is the platform that widely spreads defamation. Could the same be said for a bullhorn... possibly...? of course a bullhorn would be slander.

      Defamation damages are connected to the widespread dissemination of false statements. If I write something derogatory about your character on a train in the London Underground. Your boss on the same train to work reads this defamation and fires you. Now you have damages but who do you sue? The Train? The London Underground for allowing graffiti or not preventing it. Or the author of the defamation phrase?

      So you have lost your bloody job, and you will probably have to move to Brighton where you can get a job renting boats to tourists under an alias. The problem is clear but the solution is not clear.

      So put your legal chops into this one and come up with a solution because the boat rental season doesn't last forever in Brighton.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Publishers and platforms

      "promote some content over others" is the part that whizzes by most gawkers. That is the entire action that the profits of these giant online companies hinge on. The select and forward the most fear, hate, and emotional based content to those users they have identified as the most gullible for that type of misinformation. That is publishing.

      F*ck socially irresponsible media, nobody owes them anything, the have no "right" to make big bucks off of undermining civilization by tap dancing around liability for thier purposefully onerous promotion of dis-information and hate over facts..

  2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

    Getting tough on fake news.

    President Biden, like his predecessor and many Republicans, has voiced concern about Section 230. During his 2020 campaign, Biden told The New York Times in an interview, "...Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one. For Zuckerberg and other platforms." He argued the law should be undone because social media platforms knowingly disseminate falsehoods and misinformation.

    I think Biden's absolutely right. More Democrats need to crack down on fake news. See Robert Telles for more information. Or see Zuck's interview with Joe Rogan where he talked about the way the FBI briefed FaceMelta on Russian misinformation involving Biden's own family. Or read the Whitehouse press secretary's comments about misinformation regarding stolen elections-

    Stolen emails, stolen drone, stolen election .....welcome to the world of #unpresidented Trump

    Or KJP again-

    A federal judge in Louisiana ruled Tuesday that the Biden administration has 21 days to turn over all relevant emails sent by White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Dr. Anthony Fauci to social media platforms regarding alleged misinformation and the censorship of social media content.

    But such is politics.

    I think there is a valid point, ie at the moment, fake news and misinformation is decided in a fairly random way, often as opinion rather than any real 'fact checking'. And when misinformation is abused, it can have serious consequences, from doctors and scientists being 'deplatformed' and losing their jobs, right the way through to journalists being murdered. So 'social' media companies should be held more accountable when they promote fake 'fake news', as should the groups or individuals who manipulate the media to promote their version of the 'truth'.

  3. GuldenNL

    Nicely covered from a neutral perspective

    The ridiculous direction social media platforms have taken have added fuel to the fire in the political divide. There is no silver bullet (oops, can't use that word on several platforms...) to correct the situation, but repealing Section 230 is a start.

    In addition, Google especially needs a tough crack down on blocking apps from their Play Store. Their lies about Parler being a main platform for Jan 6 protesters was proven to be absolutely wrong, Facebook carried the vast majority of that traffic. Google is blocking Truth Social regarding lack of moderation. I tested it three weeks ago and copied 10 each of questionable right and left Tweets into a Truth Social account with a Trump loving userID and heavy list of MAGA followers. ALL of the right "Truths" were censored out, 6 of the left "Truths" were censored out. All real time using some AI and image scanning. Seems Twitter should be removed from the Play Store instead.

    And Facebook/Meta, UGH! Should be blacklisted across the globe as a pile of waste attracting flies of all extremes.

    Nice job of covering this El Reg!

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Nicely covered from a neutral perspective

      And Facebook/Meta, UGH! Should be blacklisted across the globe as a pile of waste attracting flies of all extremes.

      I think it just needs to be balanced. But that's a wicked problem. So there's content that's illegal, ie child pornography or the nutjob in Memphis who decided to livestream a murder spree. In theory, that should be 'easy', ie we have laws defining that content. If those laws aren't sufficient, we have legislators who can update, amend or append stuff to a killfile list. Then it's how to action that legislation, so delete on report, or try and automate that process.

      Where it gets a whole lot more complicated and already falls far outside s.230 protections are when it's opinions. It may get problematic when ToS already 'editorialise', ie gun channels and YT's terms of service. If those are clear, it's up to the users whether to use those services or not. But this is also where things start to get very murky, and highly politicised. So in the UK, we have various 'Rebellions' going around breaking various laws, up through anti-terrorism legislation by attacking critcal national infrastructure, or national economic and security assets. Some elements of the media seem to promote these activities.

      Or, we have politicians making statements that anyone who doesn't think like them are extremists. Extremists are generally considered bad, and there's legislation that counters extremism. Or 'social' media companies who're happy to ban anyone who holds differing opinions. When they do so, they would seem to be clearly violating s.230 protections by taking an editorial stance.

      There's also the boring human aspect. I'm unlikely to be radicalised or influenced by FaceMelta or Twitter because I don't use them. Both platforms have options to follow or ignore content they don't like, so why don't people exercise that choice and just ignore stuff they find objectionable? But that's something 'social' media companies could improve on. So for example YT is an utter PITA because it's 'recommendations' algorithms suck donkey balls. It's something that I'm sure the brains at Alpha could easily improve, if they just gave users some control over the categories of content they want to see, and stuff they never want to see again.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Nicely covered from a neutral perspective

        It's precisely the "recommendation" algorithms that need to die in a fire, not "be improved".

        If I go on YouTube, let me search for a subject, then show me the results of my search. That's all the "recommendations" I want from them. If I don't find what I'm looking for at first, then I'll go back to the search and either click on another result, or refine the original search terms. If I'm done, then I'll go elsewhere. That's not the end of the world. I'll be back.

        There is NO CASE in which I want an endless list of "next videos I might like based on my history and recent activity". Just - switch it off. Forever. Become a platform not a publisher. It won't entirely solve the problem of "fake news", but it will make it much harder to spread.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Nicely covered from a neutral perspective

          I don't hate recommendation algorithms as much as I hate...



  4. codejunky Silver badge


    I am surprised to see Biden/democrats wanting fake news stopped.

    1. Anonymous Coward
    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hmm

      They want a crackdown on actual news as it mostly runs counter to their narrative and thus their source of personal funding.

      The billions they get from big pharma for pushing the vaxx and must be absolutely raking it in with the huge rise in energy prices as they push the 'climate emergency' along with handing out huge subsidies to their friends for 'climate' projects that won't solve anything.

      Fixing problems isn't profitable. Dragging them out is VERY profitable.

  5. gandalfcn Silver badge

    Yet again, buggered it you do, buggered if you don't.

  6. EricB123 Bronze badge

    Same old, same old

    "offering children even more privacy protection and safety than whatever privacy adults are afforded"

    0 to the 100th power is still nothing

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like