Drew Curtis of Fark Says He’s Not Worried About Executive Order

Founder of social news website, Fark.com, says he’s not worried about the anti-section 230 executive order signed by the US president.

Another American-based social news platform has weighed in on the executive order trying to kill Section 230. Late last month, the impeached president had two of his tweets have fact-checking notices attached to them. As you would expect from anyone with wafer thin skin, Trump was furious and vowed to hit social media hard because of it. The very next day, Trump signed an executive order trying to kill Section 230.

As we pointed out, Section 230 protects platforms from liability for the content of their users. While there are exceptions (such as copyright infringement), platforms generally can’t be sued whenever one of their users posts something inflammatory or illegal. that responsibility generally falls onto the user who made that post. Knowing this, the push for Trump to end censorship by revoking the law is entirely counterproductive. By holding platforms liable for the things users post, it would be wise to basically ban Trump altogether to avoid liability. Really, the more you actually know about the law, the more the executive order makes no sense.

Reaction, as you’d imagine, is varied amongst observers. It generally ranges from total dismissal because the executive order is more or less legally meaningless to outrage and saying that this is an assault on free speech. In short, it is universally rejected amongst those who actually know a thing or two about this whole interweb thing.

Of course, a threat to one of the key laws that protects the core infrastructure of a free and open Internet is not to be taken lightly – especially one coming from the president. So, a group backed by Twitter, Google, and Facebook filed a lawsuit against the government in response.

Now, another name in social media is weighing in: Drew Curtis. Curtis, of course, is the founder of satirical social news website, Fark.com. In his comments, he largely agreed with our perspective that the executive order is entirely counter-productive in the end. Curtis, however, did add some legal context behind the law and how it came to be in the backdrop of the fight to rid the Internet of pornography (yeah, good luck with that). He also mentions the lawsuit against Prodigy in 1993 which apparently was an attempt to hold the site liable for something a user posted. Obviously, this is something that is before our time (something of a rarity these days). He further commented with the following:

Social media companies are terrified of losing section 230 protection because they think their behemoth platforms would be impossible to moderate. Perhaps they’re right, I wouldn’t know because Fark doesn’t have 500 million monthly active uniques. However, given how little effort they’ve put into trying to reign in Nazis, racists, and disinformation, I think the jury is out on that one – we don’t know because they haven’t tried. I’d be willing to bet if Twitter threw a billion dollars into moderation, they’d make some kind of a dent at least. And although I’d like them to try harder, I would concede that 100% enforcement is almost definitely impossible. I’d settle for them trying much harder, however.

It’s unclear what effect the administration thought its executive order would have. Clearly they were trying to punish Twitter for flagging presidential tweets. However, the EO they issued, if followed through, would actually end worse for the administration. Social media uses Section 230 to do less than they otherwise would be required to do. If Section 230 were altered or removed, social media would be forced to spend significantly more on resources for moderating content. And just looking at a small sample of Trump’s tweets in a given day, if Section 230 protections didn’t exist and Twitter could be held liable for content, he’d be moderated so hard he’d barely get a single tweet published. Same goes for a lot of the disinformation spreading accounts out there. And I’m not sure extra vigilance would be such a bad thing,

However, from a practical standpoint, the impact on social media lies in the details of what happens next. The EO instructs the FCC to take a look at Section 230 and issue more specific guidelines, implicitly asking for guidelines that would punish Twitter. I don’t think this is likely to happen at all, mainly because FCC head Ajit Pai is fairly anti-regulation and likely isn’t in any hurry to examine the issue. I would expect him to slow-walk the EO until after November, at the very least. Then whatever they come up with has to be approved by 3 out of 5 FCC commissioners, and it’s not clear how that would play out either.

So now to the question at hand: How does the EO affect Fark? Well, currently it doesn’t – it all depends on what the FCC does. If the FCC requires more stringent moderation – whether it affects Fark or not depends on to what degree. If the FCC requires a best efforts moderation strategy, we already do that. It’s imperfect, but we try to do our best. If the FCC requires every comment to be reviewed internally before posting, that would absolutely negatively affect Fark along with the entire social media ecosystem. But I’m not sure it’s the outcome the administration wants or intends.

The only thing about the FCC these days is that it is controlled by the Republican’s. They did repeal network neutrality. The effects of that repeal is only now being felt recently. There is the possibility that Ajit Pai will just blindly follow through with what Trump wants to do at this point. Of course, as Curtis says, who really knows at this stage?

It’s hard to blame Curtis for having a relaxed look at things for the time being. In order for something like this to have legal teeth, it would need legislative backing from Congress. Democrats hold the balance of power in that part of the government, so, best case scenario, a theoretical piece of legislation would face an uphill battle. Another hurdle is the fact that November is pretty close at this point, so it would face a pretty tight deadline to be passed before then. Furthermore, there is the legal challenge already laid out. In short, there is a lot putting a stop to the revoking of Section 230. So, a threat is there, but it’s currently remote even when the president is backing it.

In the off chance that, somehow, the executive order manages to mutate into a law that successfully revokes section 230 that manages to stand up to legal challenges, nothing is really stopping these platforms from moving off shore. It’ll be to America’s loss, but to other countries gain. It’s not as though these platforms are just going to shut down their whole platforms, box everything up and shut off the lights and call it a career. They’ll likely use their options to go offshore under such an unlikely scenario. In fact, as we reported earlier on, Germany has already extended its hand to Twitter already.

In the end, the only outcome of all of this are scenarios that are detrimental to the US. That is assuming that anything will actually come out of this in the first place. What is clear is that the executive branch really didn’t think any of this through. Then again, that is pretty normal for that branch of government these days.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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