Time to limit platforms' legal protection, says Chavern

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A US law which protects "interactive computer services" such as Facebook and Google from liability for user posts is "a government license to build rage machines", NMA's David Chavern says.

In a Wired magazine opinion piece, he says the "very special get-out-of-jail-free card" in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, often portrayed as an incentive for good moderation, "also provides special protection for actively bad moderation and the unsavoury business practices that make the big tech platforms most of their money".

The News Media Alliance president and chief executive calls for limitation of Section 230 and platforms to be made responsible, "like any other publisher", for content they decide to promote and amplify.

"This wouldn't stop the spread of all hateful content. But it would, at the very least, require the platforms to carefully track and filter what they promote, and introduce incentives to support known sources of quality information."

He says Google and Facebook make their money by deciding "what content will keep readers' eyeballs locked near ads".

Chavern says the platforms "like to avoid any discussion of their liability-free business model" by focusing on the difficulties of blocking bad content, evidenced by Mark Zuckerberg's constant defence of 'free speech' and the problems with dealing with information 'at scale'.

"That licence to engage in irresponsible behaviour is particularly hard on market participants like news publishers (whom I represent) that invest in creating quality content.

"They are forced to compete in attention markets that don't value quality and are subject to ever-changing algorithmic decisions about which content favours the platforms' interests."

And he says news publishers are still left with liability for what they produce. "We get the responsibility, and Google and Facebook get most of the money."

Facebook's threat to terminate access to news in Australia shows "they just don't believe (quality journalism) is important to their business.

"It's time for them to take responsibility for their commercial decisions, just like any other business."

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