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Below: Biden's latest antitrust cop clears a pivotal hurdle, and Twitter's fact-checking plans draw poor marks. But first: 

Metaverse? These Internet pioneers say we’re still learning from Web 1.0.

Many people in Washington are unhappy with one major portion of the Internet or another, and so they’re proposing sweeping changes that would dramatically alter it. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley leaders are already plotting out a course for the next generation of the Web, like the so-called “metaverse.”

But the pioneers behind today’s oft-maligned digital world, battle worn and tested, say these groups have much to learn from their own, original experimentation. Their triumphs and failures in creating safeguards for emerging technologies, fostering inclusive economies and rooting out toxic corporate cultures might offer a lesson.

In a series of essays compiled by the Knight Foundation shared exclusively with The Technology 202, founding figures in the world of technology including Microsoft President Brad Smith, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao lay out their “Lessons from the First Internet Ages,” ahead of a conference on the topic. 

Here are some key excerpts:

Brad Smith and Mary Snapp, veterans of Microsoft’s antitrust war 

Microsoft’s Snapp and Smith, who famously counseled the tech giant to make peace with Washington near the end of its years-long antitrust battle with regulators, said in hindsight they “would have worked harder to adapt to new regulation, rather than resisting it.”

One area they singled out: protecting the viability of the news industry, which they wrote plays a crucial role in battling disinformation proliferating on the Web and across social media. “We would have recognized earlier that healthy journalism is critical to the democracies in which our businesses thrive,” they wrote. 

They added, “The impact of the Internet over the past decade, and particularly the impact of social media, has disrupted the traditional business model of newsrooms. ... This in turn has contributed to a rise in disinformation.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), co-author of Section 230, a bedrock of the Web

Wyden says he has no regrets leading the charge to enshrine Section 230, which protects platforms from liability over user content, as a member of the House in 1996. “I would argue that no law in a generation has done more than Section 230 to build online communities and promote informed, productive and equitable communication online,” he wrote. 

But he does wish legislators had acted on concerns over data privacy and security decades sooner. “I wish my colleagues and I had secured strong protection for consumers’ personal information at the dawn of the Internet era,” he wrote.

And he wishes federal antitrust enforcers had more aggressively policed competition online, which he says President Biden is finally changing. “If our antitrust agencies had adopted this bolder approach three decades earlier, our national discourse would be far richer,” he wrote.

Former Rep. Chris Cox, who co-authored Section 230 with Wyden

While Wyden said he’s “open to changes” to Section 230, his partner in writing the law offered up some tweaks of his own.

Cox, a California Republican who served in the House for over 16 years, suggested that a platform shouldn’t be able to “thumb its nose” at a court and refuse to take down content that’s been deemed defamatory by relying on Section 230. And he argued digital companies should not be “shielded from legal liability even when they themselves were involved in creating or developing the content at issue.”

“I would have added a few words to Section 230 to state even more clearly that platforms can be content creators or developers themselves — and when they are, they have no protection from liability,” wrote Cox, who sits on the board of directors for NetChoice. The tech trade group counts Amazon, Facebook, Google and TikTok as members. 

Ellen Pao, the former Reddit CEO who grew critical of its leadership

Pao, who led a push to rid Reddit of harassment before resigning amid backlash as its interim chief, says she fears many content moderators’ decisions are driven by fear of harassment from the users they’re policing. And she says it’s up to companies to enforce their rules against that behavior and protect staff.

“My guess is that there’s a lot of fear of people who are hateful and harassing and trolling on social media platforms,” she wrote. “They’re not only threatening users, but they’re also threatening employees.”

The solution, she wrote, needs to go all the way to the top. “We need leaders with empathy for people who are experiencing harassment. … Executives, companies and board members should be held accountable for their actions and inactions in preventing the harm that we see being caused by lax policies or poor implementation and enforcement,” Pao wrote.

Nicole Wong, Google, Twitter and Obama administration alum 

Wong, a former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer and longtime Silicon Valley veteran, wrote that we “have lived in the shadow of Facebook’s once revered, and now increasingly damning, mantra ‘move fast and break things’ for more than a decade.”

That mentality also imbued “a sense of freedom and responsibility” that made some shudder at the thought of the government regulating the Internet. “It seems terribly naive now,” she wrote.

Now, Wong wrote, “We need nuanced legislation that restrains large tech players, punishes exploitative practices and lets nascent competitors thrive.”

She added, “We must figure out how to fund a healthier ecosystem, one that does not rely on exploiting people’s data, attention and worst instincts.”

Our top tabs

Facebook critics slam company’s “Meta” renaming

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed the change at the company's annual Connect event on Oct. 28. Facebook's social media platform will keep its current name. (Facebook)

The company’s detractors say a name change that nods toward a corporate shift to the “metaverse” isn’t enough. The critics range from civil rights advocates like Color of Change President Rashad Robinson — who called the new name “exactly what you should name a company that needs to be broken up” — to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle:

  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.): “Cosmetics — like changing a name — are no cure for toxic content or addictive algorithms. Saving face is no substitute for saving kids. Facebook needs to come clean & change its game. Real disclosure, accountability, protection of kids, & privacy — for starters. Meta is meaningless without measurable action.”
  • Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.): “Changing Facebook’s name doesn’t change what you’ve done, Mark.”
  • Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.): “Facebook wants us to start calling it Meta, but we’re just going to keep calling it what it is, a threat to privacy, democracy, and children.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Biden’s pick to lead the Justice Department’s antitrust office

Jonathan Kanter is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate, Reuters’s Diane Bartz reports. He’d take the reins of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division at a time when President Biden and top lawmakers are calling for increased antitrust enforcement, including as it pertains to major technology companies.

“Kanter is a known adversary of tech giants including Google and Apple. He has represented their rivals big and small, including Microsoft, News Corp and Yelp,” my colleagues Cat Zakrzewski and Rachel Lerman wrote this month. “His law firm, Kanter Law Group, describes itself as ‘an antitrust advocacy boutique.’ And he is under consideration for a key role at the Justice Department as the agency has brought a historic competition case against Google and is scrutinizing Apple for potential anticompetitive conduct.”

New research casts doubt on Twitter's crowdsourced fact-checking plans

Crowdsourced real-time fact-checking isn’t as effective as professional fact-checking, according to a new paper by researchers affiliated with New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics.

“Our research finds little evidence that a real-time crowd-based fact-checking approach, on its own, is sufficient to identify false news,” said Joshua A. Tucker, who co-wrote the study. “Although crowdsourced fact-checking does provide genuine information for which social media platforms or others may find potential uses, this study suggests it must be part of a far larger tool kit to combat the spread of online misinformation.”

In January, Twitter launched a program called Birdwatch that lets users “identify information in tweets they believe is misleading and write notes that provide informative context.” 

In response to the study, Twitter spokeswoman Lauren Alexander said the company has “conducted feedback sessions with people who use Twitter and subject area experts to identify risks, develop mitigation strategies, and inform our overall approach before we take steps to expand Birdwatch to the broader community.”

Rant and rave

Just about everyone weighed in on the “Meta” renaming, the new logo and Facebook's pivot to the “metaverse.” Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee: 

The Shorenstein Center's Jane Lytvynenko:

Even Twitter weighed in:

The Creative Summer Company co-founder Michell Clark:

Inside the industry

Hill happenings

Trending

Daybook

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on online marketplaces on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
  • New America’s Wireless Future Project and Public Knowledge host an event on expanding spectrum access on Tuesday at noon.

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