Curtailing the “Dark Recesses” of the Internet in 2019

By: Alma Godinez

Another mass shooting shocked the nation on August 3, 2019 in which, 22 people were killed and 24 were injured in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. [1] This tragedy exposed to the world  unpopular internet media platforms which are havens for hate.[2] Prior to the attack, the shooter published a white nationalist and anti-immigrant manifesto on 8chan.[3] This is not the only tragedy 8chan, an image board website without user restrictions, has been linked to. As result to the incident, internet security firm Cloudflare, terminated their services to 8chan denouncing the platform.[4]

Cloudflare was not the only entity to respond, President Donald Trump decried the “dark recesses” of the internet.[5] In his speech the president announced that he would direct the Justice Department to work with social media companies to proactively detect potential tragedies.[6]  Currently, the only entities responsible or able to take down hateful or dangerous content are the content provider themselves.[7] Although the president’s move sounds like a positive and needed reaction to regulate social media platforms it will come at the cost of the “forum for true diversity of political discourse”.[8]

Currently, content providers are protected by section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.[9] This provision allows companies to restrict content and protects them from any legal liability arising from content on their platforms. The liability attaches to the users of the website not the companies themselves.[10] In recent years, content providers, like Facebook and Twitter, have began policing their platforms taking down harmful content.[11] The same big companies and NGOs created the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism in 2017 to combat violent and extremist content on their websites due to public and political pressure.[12] However, 8chan and other less popular platforms do not have an incentive to police themselves especially if they cannot be held accountable for any mishaps.[13] Allegedly, big social media providers’ efforts to police their users has led to censor bias towards conservative users.[14] While there is no factual evidence of such a thing, censoring conservative users would not be illegal conduct for private entities to engage.

This could all change with the upcoming presidential executive order which promises to “censor the internet”.[15] The executive order calls on the FCC to develop regulations which ultimately would give the governmental agency the power to pick which internet material is unacceptable. The draft as it stands now would remove any protections provided by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Reactive politics are not an efficient way to regulate the internet especially if its fated to judicial challenges. The effects of the executive order remain to be seen.

[1] Anya van Wagtendonk, Sean Collins, and German Lopez, El Paso Walmart Shooting: What We know, Vox (Aug. 6, 2019, 9:15am), https://www.vox.com/2019/8/3/20753049/el-paso-walmart-cielo-vista-mall-shooting-what-we-know.

[2] Patrick Lucas Austin, What Is 8chan, and How Is It Related to This Weekend’s Shootings? Here’s What to Know, Time (Aug. 5, 2019), https://time.com/5644314/8chan-shootings/.

[3] Supra, Austin.

[4] Mathew Price, Terminating Service for 8chan, The Cloudflare Blog (Aug. 05, 2019 1:44AM) https://blog.cloudflare.com/terminating-service-for-8chan/.

[5] Quint Forgey, Trump Decries White Supremacy, Video Games Following Shootings, Politico (Aug. 5, 2019 7:46 AM), https://www.politico.com/story/2019/08/05/trump-shootings-response-background-checks-immigration-1446549.

[6] Supra, Forgey.

[7] Adi Robertson, Why The Internet’s Most Important Law Exists and How People are Still getting it Wrong, The Verge (Jun 21, 2019, 1:02pm), https://www.theverge.com/2019/6/21/18700605/section-230-internet-law-twenty-six-words-that-created-the-internet-jeff-kosseff-interview.

[8] See 47 U.S.C.A. § 230(a)(3) (West).

[9] 47 U.S.C.A. § 230 (West).

[10] Shruti Jaishankar, Note, Earning Immunity Under 47 U.S.C. S 230, 8 Ala. C.R. & C.L.L. Rev. 295, 297 (2017).

[11] Robertson, Supra note 7.

[12] Sam Levin, Tech Giants Team Up To Fight Extremism Following Cries That They Allow Terrorism, The Guardian(Jun. 26, 2017), https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/26/google-facebook-counter-terrorism-online-extremism.

[13] Queenie Wong & Richard Nieva, El Paso Massacre Shines Light On 8chan, A Racist Troll haven, Cnet (Aug. 6, 2019 11:53 AM), https://www.cnet.com/news/el-paso-shooting-shines-light-on-8chan-a-racist-troll-haven/.

[14] Cristina Lopez G.,Timeline: How Baseless Right-wing Claims About Tech Bias Led To Trump Drafting An Executive Order, Media Matters for America (Aug. 15, 2019, 2:39PM), https://www.mediamatters.org/donald-trump/timeline-how-baseless-right-wing-claims-about-tech-bias-led-trump-drafting-executive.

[15] Rusell Brandom, Trump is drafting an order to regulate Facebook and Twitter for bias, The Verge (Aug. 9, 2019),https://www.theverge.com/2019/8/9/20798759/trump-social-media-regulation-fcc-ftc-conservative-bias.

“As of Tuesday morning, this article is no longer being updated. For continuing coverage on gun violence, check out Vox’s gun violence section.

A shooter killed at least 22 people and injured at least 27 others at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday.”

“(c) Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material

(1) Treatment of publisher or speaker

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.”

“It’s an online imageboard that was created in 2013 by computer programmer Fredrick Brennan, who came up with the idea while on mushrooms. Unlike other social media sites such as Facebook, users can post anonymously and the company has allowed extremist content. 8chan, which is no longer run by Brennan, has been under fire for being a hub for white supremacists and racists.

8chan lets users post photos and texts about any topic without having to register on the site, according to an FAQ on the site. 8chan has one rule: Don’t post, request or link to any content that’s illegal in the US. But it doesn’t moderate content the way that other tech companies do.”

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