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I don’t like Section 230 either, but Trump’s attempt to remove it is still wrong

May 29, 2020, 12:54 PM UTC

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Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 exempts online platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube from liability for content its users post on their sites. I’ve repeatedly advocated that Section 230 be tweaked—or even repealed—in order to subject the multi-billion-dollar publishing behemoths to the same restrictions other media companies face.

On Thursday, Donald Trump, who uses the platforms in the vilest of ways—The Wall Street Journal editorial board this week accused him of debasing his office with his shameful tweets about the death of a young woman who once worked for a media critic of his—signed an executive order trying to do away with the exemptions.

This obviously is the wrong way to go about it. Section 230 is a portion of a law passed by Congress. The way to remedy its weaknesses is to pass new laws. Tech companies should be held to the same standard as other publishers: They should enjoy the same protections under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and be liable for the same no-nos as other media companies.

The tech behemoths make two broad arguments in their defense. The first is that the views on their sites aren’t theirs and therefore aren’t their responsibility. The result, until this week, when Twitter posted a “fact check” on a presidential tweet, is filth that any respectable publisher would edit out. The second argument is that the economy would be hurt if fledgling “Internet” companies couldn’t flourish in a protected fashion. This is laughable on the face of it; Twitter and its far more successful competitors don’t need constitutional protection to sell billions of dollars of ads.

An executive order by an obviously vindictive president is the wrong approach to changing an outdated law. That doesn’t mean altering it is a bad idea.

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


When the President does it, that means it's not illegal. As predicted, today is just another day to consider the president and Twitter. The latest twist came overnight when Twitter obscured several Trump posts about the violence in Minneapolis following George Floyd's brutal death at police hands. A label covering Trump's tweets, which can still by read by clicking through, reads: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”

Oh you cursed brat, look what you've done. Adam wasn't the only one to find AT&T's HBO Max a little confusing and a little annoying, apparently. Only about 90,000 people downloaded the new streaming service's mobile app on Wednesday, according to tracking firm SensorTower. That compares with 300,000 first-day downloads of short video service Quibi and 4 million for Disney's Disney+ service when it debuted back in November. AT&T said the number was inaccurate but did not supply its own figure.

Look what I'm whippin' up. At the other end of the new product spectrum, everybody is buying smart earbuds, it seems. Sales of so-called smart hearables like Apple's AirPods jumped 68% in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to IDC.

Stealing face. The American Civil Liberties Union sued facial recognition startup and trampler of privacy rights Clearview AI on Thursday in state court in Illinois, which has a law requiring consent before the collecting of biometric data. Clearview AI is the company, you may recall, which scraped billions of photos from social media sites and constructed a searchable database for law enforcement and other paying customers. A future lawsuit may be coming for companies providing background checks on renters. Algorithmic software is spewing lots of erroneous data, according to a report in The Markup.

Which Tiger King character are you? On Wall Street, the lovers cried and the poets dreamed. Just kidding. The traders bought and the traders sold. Salesforce said its first quarter sales rose 30% to $4.9 billion, slightly ahead of analyst expectations, but gave a disappointing forecast. Its shares, previously up 11% in 2020, lost 3% in pre-market trading on Friday morning. Dell Technologies saw flat revenue of $21.9 billion. Its stock, down 11% in 2020, jumped 7% on Friday morning. And as Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins promised in his recent Fortune interview, the company continues making big acquisitions despite the pandemic. On Thursday, it agreed to pay a reported $1 billion for network monitoring firm ThousandEyes. The two sides negotiated the deal over Webex.


While everyone is talking about when they can go back to work in an office, some people say they never want to. Computer science professor and author Cal Newport examines the debate in The New Yorker. He's not a big fan of remote work.

A gallery of thumbnail-size co-workers on a laptop screen is a diminished simulacrum of the conference-table gatherings that drive so much of corporate life. Yahoo is hardly the only organization to have concluded that the richness of in-person interaction is irreplaceable. During the Second World War—at what, in retrospect, was the dawn of electronic telework—American and British military commanders regularly exchanged telegraph messages and held secure phone conversations. Even so, with surprising frequency, high-level officials undertook risky transatlantic crossings to meet in person. Military planners realized that being physically together mattered.

Face-to-face interactions help people communicate and bond, but that’s only part of their value. The knowledge work pursued in many modern offices—thinking, investigating, synthesizing, writing, planning, organizing, and so on—tends to be fuzzy and disorganized compared to the structured processes of, say, industrial manufacturing. In many offices, tasks are assigned haphazardly, and there are few systematic ways to track who is working on what or find out how the work is going. In such a chaotic work environment, there are profound advantages to gathering people together in one place.


A few long reads I came across this week:

A Feud in Wolf-Kink Erotica Raises a Deep Legal Question (New York Times)
What do copyright and authorship mean in the crowdsourced realm known as the Omegaverse.

Influencers lose their gloss (Financial Times)
Coronavirus has sparked a backlash against those who promote themselves, and products, online

Elon Musk, His Rocket, and the Grand Scheme that Tore Apart Boca Chica (Esquire)
SpaceX is dismantling a remote beach community at the southernmost end of Texas, one house at a time. Some residents took its money. Others refuse to leave. Still others are sticking around to see what happens.

Lavish Parties, Greedy Pols and Panic Rooms: How the ‘Apple of Pot’ Collapsed (Politico)
MedMen was the country’s hottest pot startup—until it flamed out. Its fall has exposed the gap between “green rush” hype and the realities of a troubled industry.



Why GitLab hired a ‘head of remote’ before the coronavirus pandemic By Michal Lev-Ram

Silicon Valley is divided over Trump’s executive order to rein in social media By Danielle Abril

Americans are doing something surprising with their money right now By Jeff John Roberts

Wall Street vs. Big Tech: Why finance is racing back to the office while tech embraces WFH By Rey Mashayekhi

To recover from COVID-19, Europe wants more 5G By David Meyer

COVID-19 can’t be used as an excuse to limit skilled immigration By Jeffrey Sonnenfeld

Getting back to the office in the midst of coronavirus is going to be complicated By Sy Mukherjee

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. There is a 50% discount for our loyal readers if you use this link to sign up. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


How can cultural life get back to normal? A small museum in New York, Magazzino Italian Art, has an idea. It will likely reopen this summer and require visitors to wear smart tags that flash and vibrate if they get too close to another visitor, as demonstrated in this video. I'll put it in the category of 'distracting but necessary.' Have a good weekend.

Aaron Pressman