The social networks Facebook, Google, Twitter and others have been caught censoring and removing accounts of users who apparently have done very little wrong, other than supporting a political cause not favored by these evil little dictators. They suckered everyone to join and bring their friends, then they turned on the very users who built their empires by censoring their posts and banning them.
The social bullies are now on the horns of a dilemma. They are so large, they will no doubt be considered “communications systems” under 47 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations). This is the set of laws that govern communications systems such as VOIP, telephone carriers and so on. These regulations forbid interference in the communications systems for good reason. People rely on them for important messages for personal, business and emergency purposes. It’s illegal to censor political speech, which is obviously what is being done.
If you don’t believe Twitter is a communications system under 47 CFR, why did the Democratic National Committee just “serve” Wikileaks via Twitter? Legal process service is about as much proof as anyone needs to deem Twitter a “communications system”. It’s a communications system, as is Google, Facebook and probably any other service with over ten million users.
These services have been avoiding this designation by using the “100 page TOS no one reads” to set all sorts of ground rules and exclude themselves from these regulations, claim protections and own the users and their content. They’ve even made it impossible to ever quit.
However, here is where the real dilemma kicks in. These internet giants have all relied on DMCA (Digital Millennial Copyright Act) Safe Harbor provisions, which exempt service providers from copyright responsibility. In order to receive this legal protection, you can’t perform editorial selection as you are then a publisher and not a service provider. Publishers who make editorial selections are responsible for the copyrights their writers and users post on their site. Can you imagine how many copyright violations happen every day on Twitter, Facebook and Google?
Without DMCA protection, each copyright claim carries statutory damages of up to $150,000 and the successful claimant’s legal expenses must be repaid, as well. This would put a significant dent in the coffers of these social nets.
Here is where it gets fun. Let’s say it’s 90 days before an election. Like it is right now. A new Telecom act is being threatened for next year, but these cry bully social nets decide to ignore that mortal threat and go nuclear on the social media supporters of President Trump, the same way they just went nuclear on Alex Jones and Infowars. They hope to ban the Presidents supporters to shift the election in a direction that might get enough people of the opposing party elected and impeach the President. This makes what the Russians were supposed to have done look like nothing.
To counter this wouldn’t the President be able to issue an Executive Order to order various Federal Agencies to enforce 47 CFR by deeming any online service with more than 10m subscribers to be a “communications system”?
They could be fined for each time they shadowban or terminate an account without cause if it has even a hint of politics and if the abuse continued, they could be shut down. Supporting President Trump or pointing out violence committed by a leftist group isn’t a valid reason to censor people who are following the rules. You can’t make up your own “hate crime” determination if you are a communications system, regardless of what you believe. You become UPS and now you can only ask “is it liquid, explosive or corrosive”, not about the contents of the box. You haul bits.
If the social nets decide to become publishers, get ready for billions of $ in copyright infringement suits. The copyright troll lawyers will of course be delighted to finally have deep pocketed targets. As publishers, these companies are entitled to their opinions and first amendment rights, but they might be too large to go this direction and already fall under the 47 CFR Federal Regulations. It’s probably too late to go that route and the election is too close. For that reason, I believe the die is already cast and these tech giants will face some immediate retribution in the form of official US Govt. legal action.
I don’t make financial predictions or own these companies, but it could get very ugly, in a financial way and very quickly for Google, Facebook and Twitter shares.
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