'But Without 230 Reform, Websites Have No Incentive To Change!' They Scream Into The Void As Every Large Company Pulls Ads From Facebook

from the oh,-look-at-that dept

One of the most frustrating lines that we hear from people criticizing internet website content moderation is the idea that thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, websites have no incentive to do any moderation. This is a myth that I consider to be the flip side of the claims by aggrieved conservatives insisting that Section 230 requires "no bias" in moderation decisions. The "no incentive" people are (often lawyers) complaining about too little moderation. For reasons I cannot comprehend, they seem to think that the only motivation for doing anything is if the law requires you to do it. We've tried to debunk this notion multiple times, and yet it comes up again and again. Just a couple weeks ago in a panel about Section 230, a former top Hollywood lobbyist trotted it out.

I've been thinking about that line a bunch over the past few days as a huge number of large companies began pulling ads from Facebook as part of a "Stop Hate for Profit" campaign put together by a bunch of non-profits.

Over 200 companies have said they've joined the campaign and pulled their Facebook ads, including some big names, like Unilever, Verizon, Hershey, The North Face, Clorox, Starbucks, Reebok, Pfizer, Microsoft, Levi's, HP, Honda, Ford, Coca Cola and many, many more. Now, the cynical take on this is that with the current economic conditions and a global pandemic, many were looking to pull back on advertising anyway, and joining this campaign was a way to do so and get a bit of an earned media boost at the same time.

But many of the companies are putting out statements demanding that Facebook change its practices before they'll bring back ads. Here's an open letter from Levi's:

As we near the U.S. election in November and double down on our own efforts to expand voter education and turnout, we are asking Facebook to commit to decisive change. Specifically, we want to see meaningful progress towards ending the amplification of misinformation and hate speech and better addressing of political advertisements and content that contributes to voter suppression. While we appreciate that Facebook announced some steps in this direction today – it’s simply not enough.

That’s why we are joining the #StopHateForProfit campaign, pausing all paid Facebook and Instagram advertising globally and across all our brands to “hit pause on hate.” We will suspend advertising at least through the end of July. When we re-engage will depend on Facebook’s response.

I'm not convinced this campaign is necessarily a good idea, but at the very least it should put an end to people -- especially prominent experts -- claiming that there is "no incentive" for sites to do a better job with their content moderation practices. There are always non-legal incentives, including keeping users happy -- and also keeping advertisers happy.

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Filed Under: advertising, incentives, section 230, stop hate for profit
Companies: facebook


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  1. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Jul 2020 @ 8:41am

    Re:

    In addition it is more difficult for politicians to control what private companies will consider to be appropriate moderation (thus directly impacting their advertising buys) than (in their imaginations) changing the laws (despite campaign contribution anxiety). The § 230 amending crowd want to control speech and are looking for ways to 'fix' the 1st Amendment by making someone (but not them) liable for third party speech they don't like. The stumbling block is how they can keep speech they like without any repercussions at the same time (or having those amendments to the law reversed by 1st Amendment realities).

    I don't think they will largely agree with the results of this corporate 'interference' as they don't see themselves in control of the outcomes, something they desperately desire. That it disintegrates their 'no incentive' arguments is not of as much consequence as being able to control the political arena. Any step toward an authoritarian state (with their party in charge) is a good step. Stumbling blocks are considered the equivalent of 'felony interference with a business model' for which there is no actual law, but plenty of actionable behaviors, that they will relish taking.


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