Business Maverick

Limited Liability of Big Tech Under the Microscope

By Bloomberg 17 July 2019
Caption
(FILE) - A Facebook logo on a stand during the Vivatech startups and innovation fair, in Paris, France, 16 May 2019 (reissued 18 June 2019). US social media giant Facebook announced on 18 June 2019 its plans for their cryptocurrency named Libra. It is scheduled to rolled out in 2020. EPA-EFE/Julien de Rosa

US senators used a Congressional hearing on Tuesday to push the idea of overhauling a law that protects YouTube, Facebook and other internet services from being sued for the content users post.

The Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing, led by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, featured accusations Republicans have been making for months: that Google manipulates search results and its YouTube video service to censor conservatives. Google policy chief Karan Bhatia denied this and said it would be bad for business if users didn’t trust the company to be impartial.

What was new is that Cruz, fellow Republican Senator Josh Hawley and Democrat Richard Blumenthal attacked part of a 1996 law that helped internet companies thrive. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act exempts online services from liability for user-generated content. There have been rising calls to re-examine this after Facebook, Twitter and YouTube failed to control harassment and other toxic content and behaviour on their services.

Section 230 was weakened last year for situations involving sex trafficking. Cruz said on Tuesday that the provision should not apply to internet companies that don’t remain politically neutral.

Bhatia said Google was doing all it could to take down offensive content on YouTube but that the sheer volume of videos it hosts means some offending material always slips through. He said Google never uses political ideology as a reason to block or take down videos on YouTube or remove information from search results.

“You can’t simply unleash the monster and say it’s too big to control,” Blumenthal said while questioning Google’s Bhatia.

Hawley also said that if Google was willing to censor search results in China, why wouldn’t it do the same in the U.S.? Google pulled out of China in 2010 because of pressure from the government to censor search results. A new initiative to go back into China, dubbed “Project Dragonfly,” has been shelved after an outcry from employees, activists and politicians.

Bhatia’s two-hour grilling yielded little in terms of new information from Google. Some Senators chided him for evading questions and not having more information at hand.

“You’re doing something remarkable,” Cruz said. “You’re managing to be less candid than Mark Zuckerberg.”

Zuckerberg, the chief executive officer of Facebook, testified in Congress last year.

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In other news...

South Africa is in a very real battle. A political fight where terms such as truth and democracy can seem more of a suggestion as opposed to a necessity.

On one side of the battle are those openly willing to undermine the sovereignty of a democratic society, completely disregarding the weight and power of the oaths declared when they took office. If their mission was to decrease society’s trust in government - mission accomplished.

And on the other side are those who believe in the ethos of a country whose constitution was once declared the most progressive in the world. The hope that truth, justice and accountability in politics, business and society is not simply fairy tale dust sprinkled in great electoral speeches; but rather a cause that needs to be intentionally acted upon every day.

However, it would be an offensive oversight not to acknowledge that right there on the front lines, alongside whistleblowers and civil society, stand the journalists. Armed with only their determination to inform society and defend the truth, caught in the crossfire of shots fired from both sides.

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