You, Social Networks and the State

You, Social Networks, and the State; Elon Musk’s disclosure of proof positive of Twitter collusion with the Democratic National Committee to suppress some voices may lead to an uproar that truly becomes outrage. After the outrage, there should be action. What should be legislated and regulated by the State when it comes to you and social networks? The answer is to carve out a new space, legally, in a spider web of connected interests.

The U.S. Commerce Department controlled the internet, until it supposedly handed it over to international authority. I doubt anyone “controls” the internet today. The IT protocols to make it work may have an authority, but I’m not sure what else literally can be controlled – because I’m not read on to the classified information on the state-of-the-art and projected capabilities to code, hack, protect, or otherwise impose one’s will on the internet.

Within the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission regulates the internet. It is an independent U.S. Government agency overseen by Congress. The FCC has an interest in all of the internet connections and the applications that create internet services.

But, even if the FCC is the belly button for internet legislation and regulation, a unique, new legal position needs to be carved out. It should be reviewed periodically.

Let’s call it Internet Law. Or Web Law.

Consider a spider web of 14 different interests with substantial stakes.

  1. Private business. Companies selling goods and services can make rules in their contracts with buyers. Yes, the buyer must beware and there’s limited liability for the misuse of what’s purchased. Private businesses, need some existing legal protections extended to Web Law. But, the very nature of these businesses prohibits the blanket freedom of action given other companies. They aren’t just producing “widgets” in a world where there are competitors and room for more to make the same widgets.
  2. 1st Amendment individual free speech. Is a social media platform a private place or a public place? Consider making the number of users the determination. If the number of users is less than one hundred (or pick a reasonable number), then the platform is private. Strict club rules may apply. If the number is greater than that (in the workplace don’t the discrimination laws apply for companies with more than 50 employees?), then the 1st Amendment is in effect. The well-established legal limits on free speech apply. No slander, libel, communicating a threat, or incite to riot, etc.
  3. 1st Amendment freedom of the press. If a platform has over a certain number of users, then organizations can use it with the guarantees and responsibilities of a free and open press. The established legal restrictions against prior restraint and for liability apply.
  4. Public Utility. The internet should be subject to some regulations the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would use, much as services like power companies are. The power companies provide power, period. Private access must be assured. The internet is also like a public utility like telephones. The telephone company can’t tell you what to say or not on their phones. The user’s privacy must be protected.
  5. Public Airwaves. The internet is under FCC regulations, like radio and television because there are physical limits to the electro-magnetic spectrum for communications. The private use of public cyberspace should be regulated with as little politics as possible.
  6. Anti-Trust. At some point, an internet service or application achieves monopoly-like size. There may be barriers to competition, like exclusion from app stores. Perhaps, the FTC should break up every internet service when it exceeds 50 million users to have competing services. Break up Facebook in the US into different companies, like Ma Bell was broken.
  7. Election Laws. Every penny spent on election ads across all platforms must be made transparent, reportable, and accountable to limit foreign influence, establish contributions in kind, and fix responsibility for authorship.
  8. National Security. The ability to keep the internet operational is an element of national security. The internet needs the military-grade protections for emergency situations, to stop foreign enemy disinformation and data gathering. Many proprietary technical details need to be shared with and protected by the U.S. and state governments. Emergency protocols must be established and periodically updated.
  9. Business of doing business. Businesses need the internet as an integral aspect of doing business. It’s like driving on a road as a public good, or using the mail or phone. Restrictions on access must be regulated in a similar manner.
  10. Education – integral aspect. Access to the internet is part of education, like it’s part of business.
  11. Healthcare – integral aspect. Access to the internet is part of healthcare and medical research.
  12. Consumers – freedom of choice. Access to alternatives and their visibility provides freedom of choice to consumers. The internet can’t be the miner’s company store.
  13. Children. Children must be protected from predators.
  14. State’s Rights. Can states use technology to geo-fence what goes in and out of a state? Where and how do state laws apply for elections, criminal activity, pornography, etc.?

Applying limited, freedom-based restrictions – not a contradiction in terms – and protections across 14 points in the spidery “Interweb” will take serious and talented staff work to offer an array of solutions for legislatures.

Where can this happen? Who will make it happen?

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2 thoughts on “You, Social Networks and the State”

  1. It also takes a moral and ethical group of people who adhere to the freedoms that the Constitution provides, as the baseline. That means the field is limited to much fewer applicants to be allowed to be interviewed for the job, but you hit it right where it needs to be.

    You’ve put a lot of thought on this topic. Based on what I just said, I don’t have a good idea that could keep politics out of it, but that should be the goal.

    • It’s impossible to keep social networks out of politics. My point is that a very unique legal (hence political) space needs to be carved out in the US Code and State Codes. If it isn’t done so comprehensively, it’ll be done is bit pieces over the years and probably be incoherent, inconsisent, and inadequate to serve the People.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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