Tech Lobbying, Tech Regulation|Jul 15, 2020|CEP Staff

Tech Giants Oppose Measure Strengthening Regulation Of Online Child Sex Abuse

Industry Behavior Highlights Tech’s Insincerity In Tackling Harmful Content

In an effort to stave off pending U.S. regulation, the tech industry has opposed widely-supported bi-partisan U.S. legislation—the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (EARN IT Act)—that would help mitigate the prevalence of child sexual abuse material online. The obstinate position is evidenced by the tech industry’s extensive lobbying campaign centered around protecting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which provides tech with blanket liability protection from content posted by third parties on their platform. Tech’s behavior underscores the troubling, and expensive, lengths tech companies are going to in order to oppose meaningful regulations that aim to make the Internet a safer place for all.

In a recent Wired op-ed, CEP Senior Advisor Dr. Hany Farid described the current state of the Internet and what the EARN IT Act intends to achieve. The EARN IT Act would be an important step towards breaking down Section 230 blanket immunity in a narrow, but crucial way. By opening the door for states to hold tech companies accountable for child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online, it breaks a decade-long cycle of obstructionism by the industry to reform.

“Frustratingly, for the past decade, the technology sector has been largely obstructionist and full of naysayers when it comes to deploying new technologies to protect us. As a result of this deliberate neglect, the internet is overrun with child sexual abuse material, illegal sex trade, nonconsensual pornography, hate and terrorism, illegal drugs, illegal weapons, and rampant misinformation designed to sow civil unrest and interfere with democratic elections … In its amended form the Act leans into the skepticism of Section 230 and takes the needed step of fully removing blanket immunity from federal civil, state criminal, and state civil CSAM laws. In so doing, technology platforms will be treated like other entities when it comes to combating child sexual exploitation.”

The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) has repeatedly called upon Facebook and others in the tech industry to cease all lobbying against potential government regulation, particularly around Section 230 reform, that is needed to curb the spread of dangerous content online—including extremist and terrorist content. However, instead of following through on its many policy change promises to act as responsible stewards of the Internet, Facebook has only increased their spending on efforts to thwart regulatory measures. Last year, Facebook spent nearly $17 million on federal lobbying—more than any other company. Over the past decade, the tech industry has spent nearly half a billion dollars in lobbying.

Dr. Farid continues his op-ed, stating that although Section 230 has allowed tech companies to flourish to where they are today, would have pernicious effects on the public and perpetuate a perverse cycle in which profits are placed over people if left as-is.

Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act established that—with only a few exceptions—interactive computer services (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) are not liable for user-generated content. This act has given Silicon Valley an unprecedented gift in the form of a broad shield from accountability. Rather than acting as responsible ‘Good Samaritans’ as Section 230’s drafters intended, technology companies have allowed for their services to be weaponized against children, civil society, and democracy, all the while profiting annually to the tune of billions of dollars … The titans of tech continue to prioritize profits over our safety. It is time for the government to step in and regulate the industry and begin to mitigate the unspeakable harm being perpetrated on our children. The EARN IT Act is a reasonable and sensible first step in this direction.”

To read Dr. Hany Farid’s op-ed in Wired, please click here.