The internet's right to partiality

Jeff Kosseff, in interview with Adi Robertson:

Then we get to these early internet services like CompuServe and Prodigy in the early ‘90s. CompuServe is like the Wild West. It basically says, “We’re not going to moderate anything.” Prodigy says, “We’re going to have moderators, and we’re going to prohibit bad stuff from being online.” They’re both, not surprisingly, sued for defamation based on third-party content.

CompuServe’s lawsuit was dismissed because they didn’t moderate content. Prodigy’s wasn’t. Suddenly, moderating user-submitted work on your website is a bad thing.

That really is what triggered the proposal of Section 230. For Congress, the motivator for Section 230 was that it did not want platforms to be these neutral conduits, whatever that means. It wanted the platforms to moderate content.

And now that freedom to be partial is under threat, no matter how much of a red-herring the desire for “neutrality” turns out to be.

It’s a shame Kosseff and Robertson didn’t touch on algorithms in their interview. That’s where a platform’s claim to be distributor falls down and that’s where they need to rethink what it means to be partial. It’s one thing to have the right to remove content with impunity. It’s another to have the right to elevate and promote content.

It’ll be interesting to see how the likes of Facebook and Twitter respond to being challenged here. They don’t seem well equipped to manage a culture war.