Keep Section 230 But Amend It to Force Big Tech to be Transparent: Kalev Leetaru

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.
and Jan Jekielek
Jan Jekielek
Jan Jekielek
Senior Editor
Jan Jekielek is a Senior Editor with The Epoch Times and host of the show, "American Thought Leaders." Jan’s career has spanned academia, media, & international human rights work. In 2009 he joined The Epoch Times full time and has served in a variety of roles, including as Website Chief Editor. He is the producer of the award-winning Holocaust documentary film "Finding Manny."
October 13, 2021 Updated: October 14, 2021

Big Tech and other social media companies should be required by Congress to publish dataset collections that would enable people to see clearly what principles guide their moderation policies, Kalev Leetaru says.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is being scrutinized by members of both parties, with proposals ranging from removing it altogether to keeping it in place with no changes.

The section largely shields technology platforms from repercussions for their own actions and content posted by others. As the role of the platforms becomes larger and larger in everyday life, and as they crack down on a number of users—primarily conservatives—a public debate has ensued on what to do about moderation and censorship.

Many people agree on one thing: something needs to change, Leetaru, a media fellow at the RealClear Media Group and a former senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security, said on The Epoch Times’ “American Thought Leaders.” But pinpointing what changes are needed is tough because “we really don’t necessarily know what the problems are,” he added.

“It’s kind of like a doctor: they know their patient is ill but you can’t treat the patient until you know specifically what diseases they have,” he said.

In one case earlier this year, posts mentioning Memphis were taken down by Twitter. Users were told they were violating Twitter’s terms of service. The company soon issued a statement blaming an artificial intelligence algorithm.

“How exactly did that AI algorithm come to see Memphis as being a bad term? We have no idea. Was that a human being who typed in a keyword? Was that some machine learning algorithm that looks for things going viral and makes its own decisions?” Leetaru said.

Another example, he added, was the public spat between Facebook and a whistleblower who worked for the platform. Frances Haugen, the former worker, claimed the company was harming children and stoking division through its products. Her testimony sparked calls for action from both Republicans and Democrats.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg later disputed the allegations.

“The problem is that at this point we don’t have the data, we can’t answer who’s right,” Leetaru said.

The longtime data researcher is proposing a large, mandated requirement for transparency for tech platforms, which could be added to Section 230.

Leetaru laid out the proposal in a 79-page working paper (pdf) released on Oct. 13.

Among the recommended changes: forcing social media platforms to publish a dataset collection concerning their moderation activities; clarifying that platforms cannot experiment on users, especially children; requiring that the platforms outline their policies clearly and equally enforce them; and compelling the companies to “clearly document in plain English the rationale behind each enforcement action.”

“The root of all of this is the fact that we gave up as the society and told these private companies to figure it out themselves,” Leetaru alleged. “And we’re not happy with the result. But that’s because at the end of the day, you’re never going to have a set of private companies that are going to be able to come up with rules for all of us. And I think we need transparency to really be able to understand, what are these rules?”

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.
Jan Jekielek
Jan Jekielek
Senior Editor
Jan Jekielek is a Senior Editor with The Epoch Times and host of the show, "American Thought Leaders." Jan’s career has spanned academia, media, & international human rights work. In 2009 he joined The Epoch Times full time and has served in a variety of roles, including as Website Chief Editor. He is the producer of the award-winning Holocaust documentary film "Finding Manny."