Axios obtained a memo written by the office of Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, that plans for the government to takeover the internet and regulate digital platforms. From Reason:

To save American trust in “our institutions, democracy, free press, and markets,” it suggests, we need unprecedented and undemocratic government intervention into online press and markets, including “comprehensive (GDPR-like) data protection legislation” of the sort enacted in the E.U.

Titled “Potential Policy Proposals for Regulation of Social Media and Technology Firms,” the draft policy paper—penned by Sen. Mark Warner and leaked by an unknown source to Axios—the paper starts out by noting that Russians have long spread disinformation, including when “the Soviets tried to spread ‘fake news’ denigrating Martin Luther King” (here he fails to mention that the Americans in charge at the time did the same). But NOW IT’S DIFFERENT, because technology.

“Today’s tools seem almost built for Russian disinformation techniques,” Warner opines. And the ones to come, he assures us, will be even worse.

RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA!

The memo splits the proposal into three sections: combat disinformation, protect user privacy, promote competition in tech. Axios provided the details:

  • New resources and roles for government: The paper raises the prospect of new federal funding for media literacy programs that could help consumers sort through the information on online platforms. It also describes the military and intelligence communities as not adequately prepared for foreign information operations and includes various measures for bolstering their capabilities.
  • New rules for platforms: The paper considers requiring web platforms to label bot accounts or do more to identify authentic accounts, with the threat of sanction by the Federal Trade Commission if they fail to do so.
  • But it also goes further: One idea would be to make platforms legally liable for claims like “defamation, invasion of privacy, false light, and public disclosure of private facts” if they fail to take down doctored video and audio or so-called deep fakes (or fabricated footage), if a victim secured a necessary judgement regarding the sharing of that content.
  • Another would hang an “essential facility” label on certain widely-used tech products, like Google Maps. That would require them to offer access on “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” terms and not engage in “self-dealing or preferential conduct.”
  • New powers for consumers: Warner’s staffers raised the idea of a law mimicking Europe’s GDPR privacy rules in the United States or offering a more limited right for users to consent to the use of their data.
  • The report also suggested that, to increase visibility into competition, platforms could put a monetary value on an individual user’s data.

So does this mean that satire sites like The Onion and Babylon Bee will no longer exist? Reason reported:

And—of course— these include further revisions to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, recently amended by Congress to exclude protections for prostitution-related content. A revision to Section 230 could provide the ability for users to demand takedowns of certain sorts of content and hold platforms liable if they don’t abide, it says, while admitting that “attempting to distinguish between true disinformation and legitimate satire could prove difficult.”

At least the memo “acknowledges that these policy ideas come with plenty of questions: ‘In many cases there may be flaws in each proposal that may undercut the goal the proposal is trying achieve, or pose a political problem that simply can’t be overcome at this time.'”

One of those is labeling for bots. Warner’s office wants “companies to somehow label bots or be penalized” without offering an idea on how a company should do this. The memo also would like “social media platforms to authenticate and disclose the geographic origin of all user accounts or posts.” Matthew Ingram at the Columbia Journalism Review addresses this issue:

But would labeling bots actually help solve the issues Congress is concerned about? Experts say they are just one part of the problem, and that the behavior of what are sometimes called “cyborgs”—partially automated accounts run by human beings—is also important. And while anonymity can be a shield for some trolls, others are more than happy to engage in all kinds of bad behavior under their real names.

The paper also admits that identifying users could backfire if it invades the privacy of journalists or dissidents and whistleblowers who have real reasons for wanting to remain anonymous.

Warner’s memo does not “include the possibility of breaking up any large tech platforms – as some activists have called for – or establishing a new federal regulator for digital issues.” The Washington Free Beacon pointed out that the group Freedom from Facebook has asked “the Federal Trade Commission to break up the social media giant’s many properties and impose several of the same proposals that show up in the white paper.”

The left has gone into an outrage over Russia interference and data taken by Cambridge Analysts. Yes, our data belongs to us, but we don’t need government to protect us. Usually when you ask to be sent emails from a company, there’s a box that asks you if it’s okay to share your information with third parties. Simply don’t click the box. When you sign up for apps on Facebook or Twitter it warns you that third parties may gain access to your data. If that pops up then don’t use that app.