Section 230: America is about trade. Information should be subject to markets …

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Opinion

Alton Drew

I see a lot of waste in America. For an example, just take a look at e-mails exchanged within and between corporate departments. It is hard to believe that American MBA holders are racking up e-mail threads with one or two liners that effectively amount to suggesting changes in a word or adding a period to a sentence. About 25% percent of this e-mail exchange usually entails Worker One telling Worker Two that Worker One is going on vacation and will be out of touch. Ironically, Worker One makes it a point somewhere during his two-week vacation to a place he will likely never visit again to send a picture from the beach where he is sitting with a laptop across his thighs.

Americans stay busy for the sake of being busy or worse, spend a lot of time looking busy. This busy-body, chatty-catty approach to production is adding to the noise in the work place that may be drowning out the true information, the true surprise. True information should have us bolting out of our folding recliners on the beach and doing backflips on the sand. I am not seeing this and at times wonder if Americans have the capacity to provide any more surprise moments.

Some may argue that the internet is one of those surprise moments and I would remind them that the surprise is now an echo reverberating from over fifty years ago. The internet has now become a commodity, the advanced communications platform supporting more than just voice communications. Today I can review documents to determine their level of confidentiality and privilege from my home office. I can use my computer screen to watch news programming, movies, or television shows accessed from content delivery networks operating on the internet. I can meet with colleagues and receive updates on case progress or to simply have a virtual happy hour via video services on the internet.

But I still see more waste than value. I don’t see an increase in value, just tasks that were done one way in analog being done another way in digital. Social media, the internet’s most recognized application, has torn the scab off of American narcissism. The “democratization of information content” promised by internet proponents is devolving into 25-year old women and men taking Instagram booty shots, hoping against all odds to be the next sexy sensation, in a digital world crawling with other sexy sensations.

Democratization of the internet has made data that was always available but harder to find easier to find but of less value. Inaccessibility made the hunt fun. A search premium that captured the inaccessibility variable created a lucrative business for the information broker or trader. Information should be subject to market forces. The internet in general and social media in particular are destroying the market mechanism for trading information.

Social media in particular has introduced severe imbalances in the information markets where a social media subscriber’s information is acquired under the rule of discovery, swimming around unbound like Moby Dick waiting for Captain Ahab to put a spear in him. This problem could be resolved by making social media and other interactive computer access services or internet portals bear the burden of liability where the capture and use of information results in harm to the subscriber and third parties that are exposed to it.

Removing the liability shield provided by Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 as amended by the Communications Decency Act of 1998 would force interactive computer access services to provide the public with a business model that better replicates the interchange one should see in a market.

On a base market tier, for example, an interactive computer access service would offer a subscriber access to its posting services in exchange for use of the subscriber’s data and permission to edit subscriber content where publication of the content violated community mores of decency or would otherwise expose the interactive computer access service to claims of defamation or liability.

On a prime market tier, the subscriber would pay the interactive computer access provider for the privilege to post content, grant the interactive computer access service the right to collect and use certain subscriber proprietary information, and accept damages stemming from claims of liability or defamation brought by a third-party.

One upside to this approach would be the reduction in noise occurring on the internet as a result of the democratization of content. Fewer subscribers over all would post content that raises the specter of liability. Depending on the tier of services offered, interactive computer services would be free to edit content that did not meet their platform guidelines while protecting themselves from third-party liability or receive a premium from subscribers that can be used to insure the interactive computer access service from claims of liability or defamation.

Information should flow freely, like the bulls of Pamplona, but the markets should discipline their exchange. Government, as a facilitator of markets, can encourage more market behavior for information by repealing Section 230 and allowing contract to regulate the market between interactive computer access services and subscribers.

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