Emily Cox is quoted in an article in Business Insider that says the argument by tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter that they are merely ‘platforms’ will be significantly weakened once the coronavirus pandemic is over, and could change the way they operate forever.
Social media companies have previously argued that they only offer ‘platforms’, meaning they don’t have the same legal responsibilities as publishers for content on their sites. But the pandemic has forced them to take steps to combat what Business Insider calls “conspiracy theorists and snake oil salesmen”.
Facebook has placed a ‘COVID-19 Information Hub’ on every user’s news feed. And both Facebook and Twitter have removed posts from politicians such as Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro for endorsing the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a cure for the virus.
These efforts to control what appears on their platforms have left experts to contemplate what social media will look like after the pandemic is over.
In the past, the argument that they are platforms rather than publishers has kept the tech giants safe from legal challenges. They have only taken action in the most serious circumstances, such as when footage of the Christchurch massacre was circulated on Facebook and YouTube.
“But an unprecedented challenge has provoked unprecedented action,” claims Business Insider.
Emily Cox says in the article that the action by Facebook and others against misinformation in recent weeks marks “a continuum in incrementally altered behaviour” since the Cambridge Analytica data scandal broke in March 2018 .
“Big Tech arguments about free speech are not being rehearsed in the way that they have been in the past,” she says.
Emily has further thoughts on the issue, commenting: “There is little prospect of the platforms being able to ‘put the genie back in the bottle’ with regards to misinformation and fact-checking of content. Regulation may also supplement this self-regulation. While there is no consensus as yet on platforms being ‘publishers’, query whether these changes may just tip them over into being ‘editors’ for the purposes of the Defamation Act.”
Emily believes regulation remains on the back-foot in “the new online Wild West”, but it is desperately trying to catch up from both content and advertising perspectives. “In the UK alone, the anticipated Online Harms Bill and Competition and Markets Authority investigation into online advertising are both directed specifically at the platforms and show a regulatory direction of travel,” she says. “Expect to see quite a lot more of this.”
The full article in Business Insider can be found here.
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