Twitter Has Some Ideas on How Congress Should Overhaul Social Media

Twitter has some thoughts on what any new government social-media regulations ought to look like, and they read a lot like “don’t write them off Facebook’s template.”

Twitter’s @policy account on Tuesday tweeted a 10-page position paper outlining five core principles that the San Francisco firm wants to inform any new laws governing social platforms.

The first—“The Open Internet is global, should be available to all, and should be built on open standards and the protection of human rights”—reflects Twitter’s own experience being blocked by governments. For example, Turkey banned Twitter briefly in 2014, an oafish move by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that drew widespread criticism.

Too many governments have responded more drastically to dissent with full internet shutdowns. A footnote reminds readers that this led web inventor Tim Berners-Lee to issue his Contract for the Web, a set of principles that includes “Ensure everyone can connect to the internet,” which he announced at 2018’s Web Summit conference.

Second, “Trust is essential and can be built with transparency, procedural fairness, and privacy protections,” leads off with a request for laws making it easier for social forums to share data with researchers—something Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen called out her ex-employer for failing to do. Twitter also wants to see governments refrain from overly prescriptive privacy rules and mandatory real-names policies.

Third, “Recommendation and ranking algorithms should be subject to human choice and control,” calls demands for “algorithmic transparency” a distraction and says Twitter wants to let users choose their own ranking systems. It picks up on what CEO Jack Dorsey told the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in an October 2020 hearing: “Enabling people to choose algorithms created by third parties to rank and filter their content is an incredibly energizing idea that’s in reach.”

The fourth—”Competition, choice, and innovation are foundations of the Open Internet and should be protected and expanded, ensuring incumbents are not entrenched by laws and regulations”—reads as an extended subtweet of Facebook’s advocacy for “updated regulations.”

The paper warns that “in some cases, a less open internet may suit certain businesses more” and makes a plea to policymakers: “Avoid mandating technical means of implementation that have the effect of further entrenching services based on those tools and technologies.”

Twitter also doesn’t want to see further holes drilled into Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the 1996 law that says people who post things on social forums, not the forums themselves, are liable for those posts. Without its “intermediary liability” provisions, “services would be forced to choose between expensive litigation or removing content on their service.” 

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(After a court ruling in Australia vacated comparable protections in that country, CNN blocked the entire country from visiting its Facebook pages to avoid being sued for comments there.) 

The paper’s final plank—”Content moderation is more than just leave up or take down. Regulation should allow for a range of interventions, while setting clear definitions for categories of content”—boils down to a request to avoid too-specific regulation about how social platforms enforce their terms of service. 

Alas, pleading for nuance in tech-policy debates in Washington these days will probably go over no better than pleading for nuance in a tech-policy debate on Twitter.

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