Rethinking Common Carriers

Hot take: algorithmic sorting of timelines, displaying ads, and accepting subscription fees are all ‘editorial’ and therefore any for-profit organization should not be classified as a common carrier under section 230.

Show ads? Then you are making an editorial decision about which ads to accept — not common carrier.

Ask for subscriptions? Then you are making an editorial decision to exclude people who can’t afford your subscription fees — not common carrier.

This is not how this law has ever been interpreted, but if we decided to interpret it this way, we’d probably live in a better world.

Or rather:

This is not how it has ever been interpreted with regard to user hosted content on computer systems. Between 230 & DMCA safe harbor, the focus has been on this model where if you make corporations invulnerable the freedom will somehow trickle down.

But, from what I gather (from friends who worked in public access TV), this is exactly how it works in TV land.

Public access channels need to be totally neutral to avoid liability, and part of that neutrality involves being commercially unaffiliated & airing all submissions.

Meanwhile, non-public-access channels take their editorial role very seriously! If they didn’t, the lawsuits and fines would roll in at an even higher rate, and plus they wouldn’t make any money.

Internet-based communications platforms (first BBSes, then hybrid ‘portals’ like AOL and Prodigy, and then finally social media sites) are the only ones who get to have it both ways — maybe because of the expectation that nobody would ever run such a thing without profit motives. We know from experience that this isn’t true, though. Most social media sites in the world are people’s, like, two-user pleroma/mastodon instances. And even back in the 80s, while big BBSes often had to be commercial, most BBSes were not.

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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