Social disaster

The era of Facebook profiting madly off the trashiest, most libelous gossip it can show to its users could be coming to an end thanks to a government — not ours here in America — finally showing some backbone against the tech giants rapidly destroying our culture.

The United Kingdom is planning to require internet companies to take “reasonable and proportionate” action against illegal and potentially harmful content posted on their sites. The British government would set up a regulatory body with the authority to levy fines for failures to control things like terrorist propaganda, cyberbullying and disinformation, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In other words, hold those companies — some of the richest in the history of the world — to the same standard that all other publishers, including this newspaper, have been held to since time immemorial.

If a traditional newspaper publishes something, even a paid advertisement, it can be held liable for any libel contained in it. But in one of the worst decisions in U.S. history, the deceptively named Communications Decency Act of 1996 opened the door for all kinds of indecent behavior by giving online companies an exemption from this. It considered them neutral carriers and waived responsibility of what was published on their platforms. The idea was that websites were like the owner of a telephone line, who wouldn’t be held responsible for a slanderous insult made on a conference call, for example.

That law was passed before Facebook or Google had been founded and prior to anyone being able to comprehend the vast influence they would possess. Since then, we’ve seen the harm wreaked on our society — mass shootings broadcast live on social media platforms, children harassed to the point of suicide, reputations tarnished beyond repair based on malicious chatter. And the more comments it gets, the more people Facebook shows it to — because that’s that many more ads it can serve up. It’s a disgraceful tactic that threatens to morally bankrupt our once-great nation.

“The era of self-regulation for online companies is over,” Jeremy Wright, the U.K.’s digital secretary, said. He also remarked that he hoped the move would be “a model that other countries, including the U.S., will want to look at very carefully.”

Social media companies have focused on automated ways to catch bad content, but they often fail, as they did in the New Zealand mosque massacres. A robot is never going to be able to catch everything that a trained human editor would. Tech companies, though, know that would be incredibly expensive. The only way to make them do it is to levy penalties greater than those employment costs.

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