One of the nice things about doing IT and having incompetent opponents is that your opponents will shoot themselves on the balls with their own hands. This is the case of Donald "Stable Genius" Trump, who has just signed an executive order to establish that no social networks are now responsible for the contents of users.
Let's be clear, an executive order is the noisy peto of the hierarchy of American law sources. For such a thing to pass, Congress must let it pass, like everything that undermines free speech (and what is guaranteed by the American constitution).
But suppose it also passes. What did our stable genius do? It forced the platforms to read the contents beforehand and filter them. The opposite of what he wanted.
But let's go by steps. First of all, how were things before?
In almost all the West, a social network is not considered as an editorial body, in the sense that it is recognized only as a neutral platform, since the content comes from the users. Being considered neutral, the civil headquarters are not liable for the effects of what they spread.
If a social network says that by drinking disinfectant, coronavirus is prevented, that is, a person damaged by this practice cannot sue Twitter for damages, but only rivals (theoretically) who released the news.
But this requires that social networks are recognized as neutral platform status. Here, Donald "Stable Genius" Trump seems to have understood that social networks are a non-neutral platform. ( At this rate, perhaps in 15 years he will understand that he was elected at the behest of Zuckerberg. )
Without the assumption of neutrality, the order says that from now on social media must be considered civilly responsible. And being civilly responsible means that if a million people read that drinking disinfectant is good, in theory you can have a class action of one million people who have drunk disinfectant. Exactly as if a newspaper had written it.
But this does not obtain the effect that Trump hopes for, on the contrary it obtains the opposite.
Because now for social media the Fake News become a huge risk . Take for example the correct Trump posts from Twitter.
In those posts it is said that the voting letters are being sent to everyone, even to those who have not asked for them. Twitter corrected the president by saying it's not true, and you have to request them.
Now let's do the same with the new rules. The president says everyone will receive a letter without doing anything. But if someone sits on the couch waiting, receives nothing, and loses the right to vote, he can now sue Twitter for it . And ask for millions in a class action .
What can Twitter do to avoid it? The link with facts checking is not enough: it is not, in fact, compulsory to click it. Some might say he didn't click, because the word of POTUS was enough for him.
So Twitter will do what every newspaper does in that situation:
- or publish a denial on the same channel (but this does not protect him from the cause)
- will prevent the news from being published .
- will attach a disclaimer of liability to the news.
The 3 means that it will attach a label to the news in which it is said that the company is in no way linked or attributable to what has been said, does not approve or disapprove of what has been said, and is not responsible or prosecutable for what has been said , and all the legal paraphernalia of the case.
Now, seeing your post with a link that says "let's be clear, with this shit I don't want to deal with it, it's all his stuff and I don't want to hear about it" is not necessarily more delicate than a link that he says read another opinion on this matter .
But that's the theory. In practice, two things need to be observed
- the USA is full of television channels that advertise shit and spread the weirdest things. US journalism specializes in letting the guy who sells snake oil talk, with the journalist (if any) holding (ostensibly) an ostentatious neutral attitude. In this way, it is still possible to make false news, provided that TV learns the legally accepted technique to dissociate itself from what has been said . There is a whole legal paraphernalia that does just that.
- The US press enjoys a very favorable tax regime. Consequently, modifying this article for social networks on the one hand gives them editorial responsibilities, but in the background it opens the door to a gigantic tax avoidance operation . Social network lawyers may also object to this new law by bringing it to the supreme court, but they may also not do so by preferring to bring before the court the fact that if they are publishing companies THEN they must benefit from the same tax conditions.
Regarding 2, predicting what social networks will do is difficult. But 1 is the problem. It is the problem because there is still no established practice for social networks. For example, in newspapers, advertising (or native advertisement) is marked with stickers or with a different font, and controversial opinions are always marked by a disclaimer where the journalist explains "Tizio is the very controversial character. We decided to interview him, etc etc ". In saying "guy is a controversial character" the newspaper, for legal practice, "detaches" from his beliefs and in court he will be able to use this practice if someone follows the directions of the politician.
For this reason, it was possible to broadcast the video where the president advised to inject disinfectant into a vein or be charred by gamma rays to avoid coronavirus. Both methods work, in the sense that you won't get sick of coronavirus anymore, but you won't get sick because you are dead. However, by issuing a series of appropriate "signals" legally accepted as a practice, the journalist can say, before sending the video, "today the president said something that caused a great number of adverse reactions in the scientific community", and to take off the accusation of endorsement of the presidential prophylaxis.
In social networks this practice does not yet exist, or is not consolidated. Making precedent, it could happen that Twitter's reaction (attaching a link to the news) is the way considered acceptable or legally safe: you need a cause won by Twitter in this regard. In america there is a market of lawsuits brought by "accomplices" of the companies, for the sole purpose of making precedent. It means that after the elections a person could sue Twitter saying that he could not vote because he was waiting for the certificate to arrive at home by mail, as read on Twitter. Twitter will object to the judge that he has placed the link with the opposite opinion, and if the judge accepts then here is the precedent.
But it could also happen that the practice evolves, for example through a different color of the tweets, a different font, a disclaimer sticker. What will happen in this sense is unpredictable.
But in any case, Trump wouldn't make any money. Whatever the disclaimer that will now be attached to the tweets, little changes for him. Whether it's a different font or a different color, it will enter social consciousness to say "lie". How to say "purple halo", we will say that I know "fake like a tweet in Comic Sans".
For now, the situation evolves like this:
and so on. It would seem like a declared war.
The second point is that this appioppa of responsibilities to companies, but offers them a lot of power: as a newspaper does, social media can refuse to publish something because it does not correspond to the facts and would be perfectly legal. As Zuckerberg said, it is not wise to censor social media to combat censorship. And if you consider that Twitter did NOT censor the president, but only attached a link to pages with different facts, it would be an action that, to solve a non-existent problem, created the problem that was wanted to be solved.
A situation like Freddy Krüger: if you dream of it, it will come.
On the other hand, the impact can be very strong. All the legislation that has produced Internet "neutrality" comes from the USA. It was the US that was being taken as an example of perfect legislation for the growth of a digital ecosystem. European legislators and judges have always been more inclined to consider editorial systems that allowed for the dissemination of opinions and news.
Once US legislation changes, it is destined to change the whole legal landscape. If we consider that the Internet is censored by countries practically everywhere, except the US and part of the EU (but it was unwillingly and with a US push), if the US changes direction, the forces compressed by the US choices will return to press on the legislator.
In particular, once it has been established that social media are editorial bodies, the web tax is inevitable: it is as if a newspaper were taking the news from another newspaper. If Facebook becomes an editorial body, it will be forced to pay the rights for the content it publishes. Legislation already exists.
The catastrophic impact is for Google, which is mentioned in turn by the executive order. This means a lot for youtube, but for the search engine it is devastating, because making it an "editorial activity" means forcing google to pay for content, to be civilly responsible for it or to attach it to a disclaimer and in any case neutralize it.
Trump, in his hasty incompetence, opened a Pandora's box that he does not imagine. Now the other actors in the game have to be quick and hurry to take their place while the chaos lasts. (universe, can you hear me?)
But in any case, it won't benefit. In fact, it probably made the situation worse.