(Posted August 25, 2020 at https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filing/108241011213257)
I am a current user of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Gab, Parler, YouTube, Vimeo, Bitchute, Google, Amazon, Netflix and others. In addition, I have been a blogger for some two decades, first with The-Idler.com and later with LaurenceJarvikOnline.
I hosted one of the first panels on the Blogsphere, held at the National Press Club in 2002 (see: http://web.archive.org/web/20021012124918/http://www.the-idler.com/IDLER-02/7-15.html and
I also hold a Ph.D. in Film and Television from UCLA, was Bradley Scholar at the Heritage Foundation, Director of the Washington Office of David Horowitz’s Center for Popular Culture, and taught at Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School, the University of Maryland University College, Moscow’s Russian State Humanitarian University as a visiting professor, and the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan as a Fulbright Scholar.
My books include PBS: Behind the Screen, Masterpiece Theatre and the Politics of Quality, Public Broadcasting and the Public Trust, and The National Endowments: A Critical Symposium. I have testified a number of times before Congressional committees as an expert witness on cultural and media issues, and appeared on radio and television.
I have two feature-length documentary films, Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die? and The Trump Effect: Deprogramming the American Mind, which have been distributed in a variety of formats.
I currently write an online column for TheLatest.com and also have two small publishing imprints, Washington Books and Penny-a-Page Press.
Therefore, I have had both personal and professional experience as a content provider and a small publisher for some two decades.
It is my conclusion from this personal experience, as well as from observation of actions by companies with dominant market share, that Section 230 requires serious reform -- due to bad faith, misleading and fraudulent practices by social media companies which rival the “Quiz Show” and “Payola” broadcasting scandals during the 1950s.
Whether as a producer or consumer, one nowadays can have little faith that purported search results are honest, rankings are genuine, that people have not been shadowbanned, locked, blocked, or banned arbitrarily, unreasonably, based on false or defamatory charges, or that others have been boosted by suspicious means.
Initially promised as an open forum to provide a marketplace of competing ideas, much of the internet, especially social media, has become instead corrupted by large corporations pursuing commercial, political and private agendas which conflict with the free exchange of ideas and are inimical to the public interest, good government, and honest competition.
Indeed, political speech, the one form of speech which America’s Founding Fathers judged deserved the highest level of protection, has been specially targeted by social media companies, which have banned Florida Congressional candidate Laura Loomer, among others—while permitting their opponents to communicate.
I’m sure other comments in this docket will provide numerous examples of serious problems, so I’d like to emphasize that by definition one cannot provide a neutral forum while picking and choosing, or boosting and shadowbanning, messages which are preferred over those which are disfavored.
It is a logical contradiction, therefore absurd—and Orwellian.
Sadly, one can’t be sure that content being favored is not being promoted on the basis of favors exchanged between business partners in “off-the books” agreements as happened in the Quiz Show and Payola scandals.
News feeds that favor established big media companies with proven track records of error, fraud and outright lying—including substantial settlements in defamation cases—cannot reasonably be held to be reliable or honest sources.
In addition, there is no way to know how cases are actually being adjudicated.
Vague references to “terms of service” often lack specifics as to what exactly the infraction might be—or to any form of due process to rectify the decision. I can’t tell you what qualifications, expertise or experience persons or entities being used to judge such controversies by social media companies might have…and I bet the FCC can’t do so either.
Whenever I have seen media coverage of such issues in a political context, reported “fact-checkers” or other similar judges used by social media companies have appeared to be partisans, selected by unclear and mysterious procedures.
One just cannot serve simultaneously as a neutral platform and a publisher, as Senator Cruz and others have said.
The only reasonable solution to the current conflict over Section 230 is to entirely separate the platform function from the publishing function, in order to cut the Gordian knot.
Just as the telephone company may not refuse to complete a telephone call because they don’t like what someone is saying, social media companies should not be permitted to regulate content on their electronic platforms.
Of course, obscene, threatening, or fraudulent telephone calls are against the law—criminal and civil charges may be brought against those who make such calls. But the phone company cannot deny service on the basis of eavesdropping or complaints from third parties.
The same principle needs to be applied to social media. The FCC or other enforcement bodies need to establish reasonable due process for adjudication of any claims of illegal communication on social media, either at the FCC or in the courts—in order to preserve the rights of the accused and the integrity of neutral platform. Some sort of FCC bureau may need to be established to perform this function.
However, social media companies must be stripped of their rights to alter, edit, boost, ban, shadowban, trend, or affect the ranking of content in any way that is not completely neutral, objective, fair, open, honest, unbiased, and apolitical..
If individuals find a tweet or post offensive, they are free to unsubscribe, block, or delete it—but they don’t have the right to censor it.
Social media companies are at present serving two masters by simultaneously acting as platforms and publishers.
To solve this problem, the FCC must force social media companies to choose one or the other: Either to become publishers legally responsible for content they provide, or to become truly neutral platforms which do not interfere with freedom of speech.
As Luke 16:3 says: “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other…”
In my opinion, for FCC action in this regard is long overdue, especially during an election year in which social media companies play a significant role.