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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Publisher or platform?

31 May 2021

Dealing with user-generated content online is a tricky problem.

Since sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc are not actually creating their own content but are instead reliant on users to do so, there is always the possibility of offensive, illegal, copyrighted or defamatory material being uploaded.

If these companies were treated in the same way as traditional publishers, they would then become liable for such uploads and that would never do, would it?

So instead, they are considered to be "platforms" rather than "publishers". This "platform" designation effectively grants them immunity from legal liability, so long as they act to remove offending content when notified.

Sounds like a great solution... right?

Well in reality it's just not working.

The problem is, who defines what's "acceptable" and what's not?

Perhaps the best answer to that would be to make "legality" the arbiter of acceptability. Consider everything to be acceptable unless it represents a breach or alleged breach of the law -- in which case it can be removed until such time as a court decides.

That is exactly how "platforms" should work... but they don't.

The problem is that all of these platforms also have "Terms of Service" statements which give them the authority to remove material for any reason (stated or unstated) and, in my opinion, that turns them into publishers and negates the immunity that platforms have in law.

Let's draw a comparison...

In old-school terms, a "platform" is a "carrier" -- just like the post office or the telephone company is.

The post office can't reasonable be expected to check the contents of every letter or package they handle for legality so their only obligation is to carry all items unless they become aware that they might contain something illegal. The post office doesn't say "No right-leaning political comments in letters" or "no brochures claiming the world is flat".

Modern social media platforms however, *ARE* choosing to filter material, not on the basis of legality but on the basis of their own ideologies and beliefs. That must surely make them publishers -- since they are actually exercising editorial control over what is published and distributed.

Take YouTube for example...

You are severely censured on YouTube for daring to make claims that are contrary to "the established position" on things like CV19. People have had their channels demonetized and even completely shut down for simply suggesting that CV19 might have been man-made in a lab in Wuhan. YouTube told us that this was "fake news" and punished those who voiced that opinion in ways that had far-reaching consequences for some.

But wait... now the mainstream media is revisiting this possibility and also suggesting that there could have been a degree of "engineering" to this virus.

Are we seeing the MSM's YouTube presence censured or "canceled" for doing this?

No we are not. Suddenly YouTube has decided that it's okay to talk about this and that it is no longer fake news.

So what about those poor unfortunates who made this suggestion 6 or 12 months ago? Will they be getting their channels back? Will they be compensated for the arbitrarily imposed loss of earnings?

Of course not. Why not? Well see last week's column on Google's lack of ethics for insight into that.

Once again however, this points to massive editorial control of what's published on these platforms and that should immediately destroy any protections that are offered under the claim that they're merely a "platform".

Sadly, despite the occasional court ruling, I increasingly see that these huge multi-national corporations are holding "get out of jail free" cards in the eyes of our governments. They are not required to play by the rules, they are not even required to pay their fair share of tax.

It really is time for investigations to be done into what the hell is going on behind the scenes that allows them to thumb their noses at laws, rules, regulations and all the controls that apply to lesser entities.

I fear that there's a lot going on behind closed doors that we (the mere citizens of the world) are presently aware of.

Ultimately it boils down to money and, as we know, politicians tend to be a greedy bunch whilst mega-corporations have plenty of cash to feed the beast in return for favours.

Are you worried... or is this just "conspiracy talk" that should be considered fake news and removed from the internet?

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