Big Tech's dominance under threat2 min read . Updated: 30 Nov 2020, 07:37 PM IST
- Potential legal changes in the US and a newly established competition law body in the UK threaten Big Tech's dominance
The stranglehold that Big Tech has over so many areas in the US and the UK might be more restrained in the near future. With Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act ('Section 230, CDA' henceforth) coming under real threat for the first time since its enforcement in 1996 and Britain creating the Digital Markets Unit, pressure seems to be building against Big Tech.
In the US, Section 230, CDA, that empowered the rise of Big Tech is currently under threat, the likes of which it has not faced before. This threat puts websites that host user content at risk of significant consequences. Section 230, CDA states that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." In other words, online publishing platforms that host or republish speech are not legally liable for content that they do not create. They are protected against a deluge of laws that might otherwise hold them legally responsible for what others say or do. Section 230, CDA also states that, "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected." Therefore, online publishing platforms are free to moderate user-posted content off their websites.
In the Communications Decency Act, Congress expressly mentions its intention to keep government away from moderating content online. Section 230, CDA provides social media websites a large blanket of immunity for the content they publish or host from users. There is an increasing sentiment in Washington that this law requires an overhaul. Democrats of this opinion say that the immunity provided by Section 230, CDA has permitted companies to ignore the proliferation of false or dangerous information online since they are not legally liable for such content. Republicans of this opinion focus on another facet of Section 230, CDA, and allege that these companies possess too much power to restrict free speech as they are not liable for removing content. It is interesting to note that both the incumbent Donald Trump and President-Elect Joe Biden, have called for the revocation of Section 230, CDA. While Congress could enact such a change, the US Supreme Court has historically stayed away from getting involved in Section 230, CDA.
In the UK, a new tech regulator called the Digital Markets Unit has recently been established. This specialist division will be a part of the Competition and Markets Authority, focusing on the (thus far) ironclad grip that Big Tech has on the UK's £149-billion digital sector. The Digital Markets Unit, which is due to start work in April 2021, will work beside regulators such as the Information Commissioner's Office to enforce a new code of conduct for digital platforms while tackling the antitrust offence of abuse of market dominance.
Should either of the efforts lead to concrete results, it is safe to say that the ripples created would have immediate and massive implications on Big Tech and all digital platforms, especially social media companies. This is sure to be an interesting space to follow.