The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair who oversaw the implementation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has admitted the mistake he and others made by creating special privileges in the marketplace that have allowed for the rise of monopoly tech firms.
Reed Hundt spoke to ProMarket about the monster he helped create when he led the FCC during the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1997. He explained that big tech monopolies and oligarchies were not created by accident, but by design through government regulatory policy.
“In every country, almost without exception, there is an antitrust policy and an antitrust history, and in every single country the narrative of this antitrust oscillates between applying some rigorous economic theory designed to promote efficiency, with a willingness to have winners, and another school where it is not just about efficiency—it is also about the social impact. And it goes back and forth,” Hundt said.
“In the United States, almost uniquely among countries, the narrative in the rulings was about nothing other than efficiency, from roughly the late 1970s, which is when I started [working] at antitrust practice, until a couple of years ago. It is the longest run for the efficiency school that you’ll find in any country. That philosophy was meant to allow some companies to win the competition and become monopolies or oligopolies. That was the idea—it wasn’t an accident,” he added.
Hundt believes that the backlash against tech giants like Facebook is justified considering the circumstances.
“My conclusion is that Mark Zuckerberg, god bless him, who is a smart but really lucky guy, should not be surprised that people want to break up his company, because it’s exactly the same thing that happened to AT&T and also Standard Oil,” Hundt explained.
“Standard Oil was also embedded in society in every conceivable way: in shipping, transportation, industrial process, heating. When companies are that deeply entrenched, it isn’t anymore just about efficiency and markets—it is about their political power, social power, and influence power,” he added.
The tech giants have largely wielded their monopoly power in a way to destroy freedom of expression for conservative dissidents and protect legacy media outlets that are sinking fast. Section 230 has allowed these Silicon Valley monoliths to act as partisan publishers without being punitively responsible for the content on their platforms.
Section 230 reads as follows: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Hundt now admits the mistake that he and other regulators made when they were responsible for crafting the law in the 1990s.
“We were naïve. We were naïve in a way that is even hard to recapture. We all thought—Al Gore, me—that for people to be able to publish what they want would so enhance democracy and so inspire humanity, that it would lead to kind of flowering of creativity and emergence of a kind of a collective discovery of truth,” he said.
Hundt claimed that if he were in charge today, he “would probably modify” Section 230 because it has “immunized [tech platforms] from too much.”
One such reform that could reign in Section 230 is legislation proposed by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) to force digital platforms to be neutral in how they prepare their algorithms and moderate their content.
“With Section 230, tech companies get a sweetheart deal that no other industry enjoys: complete exemption from traditional publisher liability in exchange for providing a forum free of political censorship,” Hawley said in a statement. “Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, big tech has failed to hold up its end of the bargain.”
“There’s a growing list of evidence that shows big tech companies making editorial decisions to censor viewpoints they disagree with,” Hawley added. “Even worse, the entire process is shrouded in secrecy because these companies refuse to make their protocols public. This legislation simply states that if the tech giants want to keep their government-granted immunity, they must bring transparency and accountability to their editorial processes and prove that they don’t discriminate.”
The tech giants have become perhaps the most powerful entities in the history of mankind, and they will need to be cut down to size or the Orwellian Nightmare will become an inescapable eventuality.
Twitter Posts Job Posting for Developing Paid Subscription Service; Will Platform Become Pay-to-Use?
Will it lead to the downfall of the platform?
Shares for Twitter’s stock surged more than 8% on Wednesday as the company posted an online job listing for a developer who would work on a new system designed as a pay-to-use platform.
The job listing advertises the opening for a project team termed “Gryphon.” The company describes the team as creating a “subscription platform” that “can be reused by other teams in the future.”
In a statement to CNN on the job listing, Twitter underplayed the announcement, stating that it was only a job listing, not a product announcement.
“We’re conducting this survey to assess the interest in a new, more enhanced version of Tweetdeck. We regularly conduct user research to gather feedback about people’s Twitter experience and to better inform our product investment decisions, and we’re exploring several ways to make Tweetdeck even more valuable for professionals.”
CEO Jack Dorsey has resisted shareholder demands to reorganize Twitter to prioritize profitability, most recently fending off a buyout attempt staged by oligarch Paul Singer challenging his leadership of the company. Dorsey kept his position of power over the company after reaching an agreement with profit-hungry shareholders, and the new development of paid subscription software could signal he intends to further satisfy them.
The company’s major investors will likely be pleased by any sign the company intends to convert its service into a pay-to-use model, evolving away from the tradition business model of micro-targeted ads towards its user base. However, a change to a subscription model could prove to be a threat to Twitter’s appeal, especially when newer free speech platforms are gunning for the platform’s user base and the company caves to the demands of censorious liberal journalists in suspending a variety of public figures deemed inconvenient to the neoliberal societal model.
Ultimately, the greed and thirst for power of the privileged elites of Silicon Valley could possibly bring about an end to their era of domination over online political speech, heralding a renaissance of the internet.
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