The Common Law History of Section 230 with Brent Skorup (Ep. 208)
Does the history of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act suggest that it affords internet platforms special liability protection?
Brent Skorup (@bskorup) is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. His research areas include transportation technology, telecommunications, aviation, and wireless policy.
He serves on the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee and on the Texas DOT’s Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Task Force. He is also a member of the Federalist Society’s Regulatory Transparency Project.
The White House, the FCC, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and a dissenting opinion at the Illinois Supreme Court have cited his research. In addition to economics and law journal publication, he has authored pieces for National Affairs, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Wired, Air Traffic Management magazine, Regulation magazine, and elsewhere. He’s appeared as a TV and radio interview guest for news outlets like C-SPAN, NPR, CBS News, ABC News, and CNBC Asia.
Brent has a BA in economics from Wheaton College and a law degree from the George Mason University School of Law, where he was articles editor for the Civil Rights Law Journal. He was a legal clerk at the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and at the Energy and Commerce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. Before joining Mercatus, he was the Director of Research at the Information Economy Project, a law and economics university research center.
The Erosion of Publisher Liability in American Law by Brent Skorup and Jennifer Huddleston (Mercatus Center, 2019)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to meet with civil rights leaders this week after his company has maintained its policy to leave up political ads containing false statements by politicians. The company has applied the policy unevenly, first allowing Donald Trump to maliciously post an ad with false information about Joe Biden; then leaving up an Elizabeth Warren ad containing false information designed to illustrate the absurdity of Facebook’s ad policy. During a hearing, Zuckerberg also admitted to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that if she were to place a false political ad, that the company would probably leave it up.
But Facebook is inexplicably removing false ads placed by Political Action Committees. One notable example is an ad placed the Really Online Lefty League – ROLL – a Political Action Committee co-founded by Adriel Hampton – which falsely claimed that Lindsey Graham supports the New Green Deal. Hampton, an experienced marketing and political strategist, responded by filing to run for governor of California. Then gubernatorial candidate Hampton posted a false political ad and Facebook took it down, saying his campaign wasn’t legit—that it was just a ploy to place a false ad to see what Facebook would do. Even though Hampton says he fully expects to win the governorship, Facebook hasn’t reinstated the ad.
Top officials from the NAACP, National Urban League, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights are scheduled to meet with Zuckerberg this week to express their concerns with Facebook’s political ad policy, which the company now says has been extended to the UK.
A plaintiff in San Francisco filed a potential class action federal lawsuit last week claiming that Facebook discriminates against users based on age and gender in determining who can see financial services ads. The lawsuit comes 7-months after Facebook agreed to tailor its platform to avoid discrimination on the basis of age, gender and zip code for job, credit, and housing ads.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has launched a national security investigation into Tik Tok, which is owned by the Chinese firm Bytedance. A bipartisan cohort of lawmakers including Democrat Chuck Schumer, Republican Marco Rubio, and Tennessee Democratic Congressman Bart Gordon have all expressed concern about how the Chinese government uses TikTok’s data. TikTok’s growth has been outpacing the growth of incumbent social media companies in the U.S.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is exiled in Russia for blowing the lid off the National Security Agency’s mass data collection practices six years ago, told ReCode’s Kara Swisher last week that Facebook is as untrustworthy as the NSA when it comes to privacy. But he didn’t limit his remarks to Facebook. He said that all tech companies are looking to exploit our personal data no matter the consequences. He also said that, on the surface, users may appear not to be concerned about how big tech companies handle their data but that, in reality, users are very concerned but feel powerless.
Five people were shot and killed at an Airbnb rental Northern California during a Halloween party on Thursday. The rental listing on Airbnb prohibited parties and the renter claimed it was renting the space for family members who were suffering from smoke inhalation from the fires in the Los Angeles area. A witness reported to Buzzfeed that the shooting occurred with apparently no provocation. Airbnb has banned the renter from the platform.
Chinese officials announced last week that it would roll out 5G to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou 2 months ahead of schedule. The country also announced plans to roll out 5G to over 50 cities by the end of this year. While U.S. telecom companies have begun their 5G roll-out, it’s largely been rolled out on higher frequency bands than the 5G service that’s being rolled out in China. The lower frequency bands that China’s using cover a larger surface area, while the higher frequency bands U.S. companies are using are more powerful but cover less ground.
Senator Corey Booker has introduced a bill to ban facial recognition in public housing. The Senator cites the disproportionate impact that facial recognition technology threatens to have on the nation’s most vulnerable communities. The No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act targets public housing that receives funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Apple announced that it will invest $2.5 billion to address California’s affordable housing shortage. Some of those funds will be applied statewide. Others will be allocated for projects in the Bay Area. Three hundred million dollars will go towards affordable housing on Apple-owned property.
Thirty-five democrats in Congress sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee to pass a federal revenge porn law that would criminalize the nonconsensual posting of sexually explicit images online. The letter followed Congresswoman Katie Hill’s resignation from Congress after someone posted nude images depicting her and others as well as accusations that she was having inappropriate relations with campaign and congressional staffers. Hill blames her husband, whom she is in the process of divorcing, for posting the photos.
Finally, Massachusetts Institute of Technology president Rafael Reif acknowledged last week that women and people of color often face exclusion and belittlement on campus and that it’s something the university is trying to improve. The development follows revelations of Jeffrey Epstein’s ties to the university.