America needs a comprehensive internet reform bill.
In a perfect world, where everyone acted with respect and integrity, the internet’s open source model might have worked, but the reality is there are a lot of bad actors with bad intentions gaming the internet for illegal gain.
After a long public love affair with the internet, things changed last fall as reports began to surface about Russian interference and false advertising during the presidential election. Washington was finally being forced to turn their attention to those internet companies who have been derelict in taking responsibility for what was happening on their platforms.
It came as no surprise when internet powerhouses Google, Facebook and Twitter were invaded so easily by Russian hackers. After all, for years they have been fighting off all attempts by legislators to put controls in place to address criminal and abusive activity on their platforms.
In 2012 legislators came close to passing the Stop Online Piracy Act until Google and others from Silicon Valley mounted an eleventh hour scorched earth campaign to shut down their efforts. With the help of millions of e-mail addresses they had in their data base, they initiated a viral campaign that played on the fear of censorship, describing supporters of the bill as anti-free speech.
The message was so inflammatory that legislators are still afraid to tackle copyright reform today, five years later.
In 2016, Google spent over a million dollars a month on D.C. lobbyists and continues to work with rogue organizations like the EFF and Public Knowledge to keep outside intervention at bay.
Then last summer, a story broke in the Wall Street Journal about Google’s decade long practice of hiring scholars and researchers to write papers supporting their business practices, some of which were used in congressional hearings.
“Google operates a little-known program to harness the brain power of university researchers to help sway opinion and public policy, cultivating ﬁnancial relationships with professors at campuses from Harvard University to the University of California, Berkeley.”
Over the past decade, Google has helped ﬁnance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenges of its market dominance, paying $5,000 to $400,000 for the work, The Wall Street Journal found.”
Now, things have changed for these online companies as more reports surface about Russian interference and the amount of fake news and false advertising that surrounded the presidential election.
“After years of avoiding regulation, businesses like Facebook, Google and Amazon are a focus of lawmakers, some of whom are criticizing the expanding power of big tech companies and their role in the 2016 election.”
“The attacks cover a smattering of issues as diverse as antitrust, privacy and public disclosure. They also come from both sides, from people like the Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, as well as Senator Elizabeth Warren, a liberal Democrat….” Cecilia Kang, New York Times
Now, every news source in America is reporting on the story. Politicians and the public are finally beginning to realized just how serious and widespread the problems are on the internet.
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Institute 62% of U.S. adults get their news from social media with Facebook reaching 67% of their adult users. Staggering numbers when you consider the proliferation of Fake News and misleading ads appearing on social media and search platforms.
But perhaps the most direct and powerful statement came from Senator Diane Feinstein D-CA, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee addressing the legal representatives sent by Google, Facebook and Twitter to testify on their behalf before the committee:
“I don’t think you get it,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose home state includes all three companies.”
“What we’re talking about is a cataclysmic change. What we’re talking about is the beginning of cyberwarfare. What we’re talking about is a major foreign power with sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country. We are not going to go away gentlemen. And this is a very big deal.”
“You bear this responsibility. You’ve created these platforms. And now they are being misused. And you have to be the ones to do something about it. Or we will.”
Yes, this is a very big deal and has been for quite some time.
America needs a comprehensive internet reform bill to address a long list of failed policies and ineffective legislation. Not piecemeal legislation addressing only the most emotionally charged atrocities like the current bill that addresses sex trafficking or Russian interference in our elections.
We need an oversight committee to address the ever changing challenges presented by this rapidly transforming medium, not decades to fix serious problems like copyright reform.
We need legislation, not promises to do better.
Photo: William Buckley a2a_config