Winding Down Our Latest Greenhouse Panel: Content Moderation At The Infrastructure Layer
from the the-slickest-of-all-slippery-slopes dept
When Mike introduced our latest Greenhouse series on content moderation at the infrastructure layer, he made it abundantly clear this was a particularly thorny and complicated issue. While there’s been a relentless focus on content moderation at the so-called “edge” of the internet (Google, Facebook, and Twitter), less talked about is content moderation at the “infrastructure” layers deeper in the stack. That can include anything from hosting companies and domain registrars, to ad networks, payment processors, telecom providers, and app stores.
If and how many of these operations should be engaged in moderating content, and the peril of that participation being exploited and abused by bad actors and governments the world over, made this Greenhouse series notably more complicated than our past discussions on privacy, more traditional forms of content moderation, or broadband in the COVID era.
We’d like to extend a big thank you to our diverse array of wonderful contributors to this panel, who we think did an amazing job outlining the complexities and risks awaiting policymakers on what’s sure to be a long road forward:
The EFF’s Corynne McSherry took a useful bird’s eye view of the problem, highlighting how the well-documented and sometimes painful content moderation failures on the edge could prove utterly catastrophic when applied to the infrastructure layer. Jonathan Zittrain examined the blurry lines when it comes to defining what infrastructure even is, and the need for reflective consensus as the infrastructure layer inevitably gets dragged into the politics of change. Will Duffield took an excellent look at the particular risks involved with expecting the world’s bankers and financial systems to be impartial arbiters of online content, especially given their history of bungled and problematic decisions to date. Austin Ruckstuhl took a look at the complicated can of worms that is infrastructure-layer content moderation, while arguing that putting infrastructure players in such a position is akin to putting plumbers in charge of water quality. Christian Dawson took a compelling look at Section 230, and deflated many of the myths currently propping up bad faith efforts to implement dubious “reform” of a law that helped make the internet the robust participation engine it is today. Tomiwa Ilori took a more global, bird’s eye view of the debate, specifically the collision between government ambition and the fundamental quest for basic human rights. Niels ten Oever discussed the perils of concentrated power, and how the development, standardization, and implementation of Internet infrastructure is always inherently political. Konstantinos Komaitis argued that if content moderation at the infrastructure layer is inevitable, a transparent framework based on certainty and consistency, crafted via informed consensus, will prove essential to avoiding potentially disastrous outcomes. Alex Feerst offered an informative primer on the history of the social internet’s evolution, arguing that more of everything (from transparency to competitors) will be essential as we craft and nurture the participatory internet of tomorrow. Emma Llanso ably documented the perils of putting content moderation decisions into the hands of financial intermediaries, helpfully framed via the recent headaches experienced at OnlyFans. Mike Masnick also discussed the rampant confusion of even defining what constitutes the “infrastructure” layer, the edge-confined narrowness of the content moderation debate so far, and the problem with expecting regulators to understand any of the nuances of either.
From the BBS’ of old to Facebook’s sprawling global advertainment ecosystem, digital connectivity has witnessed preposterous levels of growth in the blink of an eye. That growth has come hand-in-hand with immense new challenges in policy making, regulatory oversight, antitrust enforcement, and so much more. One recurrent them of both our contributions and live panel was that whatever the future looks like, transparency, healthy competition, informed consensus, and education must all be at the heart of building the healthy, resilient, efficient, and inclusive internet of tomorrow.
Again, we’d like to extend our immense appreciation to contributors of our latest roundtable, live panel participants, and Techdirt readers, and we hope these conversations have provided value to internet policymakers and everyday internet users alike.