Rhetoric Contradicts Tech’s Efforts to Lobby Against Legislation and Failure to Abide by Existing Policies
Last Sunday, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired an interview with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki focused in part on how the Google-owned platform polices hate speech, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and other content expressly prohibited by the company’s terms of service. In the interview, Wojcicki said, “The government is free to say, ‘Hey, this is how you should enforce hate. This is how you should enforce harassment.’ We would follow those laws. But we don't see those laws.
However, Google’s actions paint a different picture, one of active opposition to legislative and regulatory initiatives around the world. Germany’s NetzDG, a pioneering law designed to combat online extremist content, faced fierce opposition from the company, before finally being passed. Earlier this year, Australia passed new legislation in the wake of the New Zealand terrorist attack that threatened fines and jail time for tech companies and their executives that failed to remove extremist content promptly from their platforms. It was also “strongly opposed by the tech industry.”
“If Google/YouTube and the tech industry truly wanted the government’s help in defining prohibited content, they should stop spending millions lobbying against laws and regulations around the world designed to enable tech companies to actively seek out and remove hateful content,” said Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Executive Director David Ibsen. “Moreover, as tech claims to want to follow government policies, companies should be working to comply with existing laws, including Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Section 230 gives tech companies the legal protection to aggressively remove content that violates their terms of service. Rather than acting in compliance with the spirit of the law, tech has used the law as an excuse to do as little as possible. The industry has the resources and the tools to remove extremist propaganda, hate speech, and a host of other prohibited content, but they clearly lack the desire.”
In the United States, tech companies spent a combined $55 million on lobbying in 2018, doubling the $27.4 million they spent only two years prior. The spending spree was led by Google, which spent $21.7 million and for the past two years has been “the top corporate spender.”
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was enacted in 1996, and represents the U.S. Congress’s effort to prevent the spread of obscene material on the Internet. U.S. Naval Academy professor Jeff Kosseff has explained that the impetus for Section 230 was to prevent online platforms from being neutral conduits for content. Indeed, Congress “wanted the platforms to moderate content.” CEP has supported U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when she stated that “230 is a gift to [the tech companies], and I don’t think they are treating it with the respect that they should... For the privilege of 230, there has to be a bigger sense of responsibility on it, and it is not out of the question that that could be removed.”
If Google/YouTube is sincere about its desire for laws and regulations, then it should cease its lobbying operations and enforce existing rules in the manner that they were intended to be implemented.