Connect with us

Economy

We Shouldn’t Have to Beg Mark Zuckerberg to Respect Democracy

Published

on


(This post originally appeared on my Patreon page.) Last month George Soros had a New York Times column arguing that Mark Zuckerberg should not be running Facebook. (Does the NYT reserve space on its opinion page for billionaires?) The gist of Soros’ piece is that Zuckerberg has made a deal with Trump. He will allow all manner of outrageous lies to be spread on Facebook to benefit Trump’s re-election campaign. In exchange, Trump will defend Zuckerberg from efforts to regulate Facebook.

Soros is of course right. Zuckerberg has said that Facebook will not attempt to verify the accuracy of the political ads that it runs. This is a greenlight for any sleazebag to push the most outrageous claims that they want in order to further the election of their favored candidate.

This will almost certainly benefit Donald Trump’s re-election, since the one area where he can legitimately take credit is in pushing outlandish lies. No one has pushed more lies more effectively than Donald Trump. The free rein promised by Zuckerberg is a re-election campaign contribution of enormous value.

While Soros is right on the substance of the issue, he is wrong to focus on the personality of Mark Zuckerberg. It would be good if we had a responsible forward-thinking person, who cared about the future of democracy, running Facebook, but that is not the normal course of things in a capitalist economy.

Businesses are run to make money. And, the bottom line here is that Facebook stands to make much more money spreading outlandish lies that help Trump’s campaign, than screening ads for their veracity. In this context, we should not be surprised that Facebook is taking the lie-spreading route. The problem is not that Zuckerberg is acting like a normal businessperson, the problem is that we made the lie-spreading route profitable.

In this respect it is worth pointing out that we don’t have the same problem with other media outlets. We don’t have to beg CNN, the New York Times, and other major news outlets to not take ads that they know to be false. They won’t do it, perhaps in part out of principle, but also because they could be sued for libel if they spread claims that were false and damaging.

For example, if I wanted to take out an ad asserting that Donald Trump is a rapist (which is likely true), most major news outlets would refuse to run it. Donald Trump could not only sue me for libel, he could also sue any news outlet that carried the ad. If I could not show that the claim was true, the news outlet that published the ad could be forced to pay substantial damages. For this reason, traditional news outlets do try to screen political ads for accuracy, and will not run an ad that they know to be false.

Facebook does not feel the same need to protect against libel because a law passed by Congress exempts it from the same sort of liability faced by traditional media outlets. Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, protects Internet intermediaries from the liability rules that apply to traditional media outlets.

The logic that was used to justify this provision is that Internet intermediaries should be treated the same way as common carriers, like a phone company or the mail service. A common carrier does not have control over the content it carries, nor does it profit from specific content, except insofar as it increases demand for its service.

This was arguably an accurate description of Internet intermediaries in the early years of the web. For example, we would not have expected AOL to be responsible for whatever people chose to post in its chatrooms. But the web in general, and Facebook in particular, have evolved hugely in the years since Section 230 was put into law.

Facebook has complete control over content. It allows people to pay to have their posts sent to as many people as they choose. It allows them to target the recipients, based on location, age, education, gender, and any number of other characteristics. It is very hard to see how an outlet like CNN or the NYT can be held responsible for spreading libelous material, but Facebook should be exempt.

Whether or not Section 230 made sense in 1996, it clearly does not in era of Facebook. In effect it gives Facebook, and other Internet outlets, a special privilege that is not available to their broadcast or print competitors.

Of course, Zuckerberg will claim that it is not possible for Facebook to monitor the hundreds of millions of items that get posted every day. But the standard need not be that Facebook prevents libelous material from being posted. Rather, Facebook can be required to remove libelous material after it has been called to its attention. Furthermore, since Facebook’s system allows it to know exactly who has opened a post, it can be required to send a correction to anyone who originally received the libelous material.

Zuckerberg has also argued that they cannot be responsible for preventing false material from being spread through Facebook because they shouldn’t be in the position of determining what is true. Determining truth may seem hard for Zuckerberg, but this is precisely what every traditional media outlet does all the time, both when deciding on editorial content and when making decisions about accepting ads. If Zuckerberg’s team is that much less competent than those at traditional media outlets they can look to hire competent people away from these other outlets.      

There really is nothing terribly complicated about Facebook’s situation, nor any grand questions of freedom of speech and freedom of the press that don’t come up all the time with traditional media. The basic story is that Facebook is now gaming a provision of a quarter-century old law to pretend it is a common carrier when that is clearly not the case.

If Facebook wants to be treated like a common carrier, then it should become one. That would mean not profiting from ads and boosted posts. It would also mean not selling personal information from its users. If it wants to be a common carrier then it can simply allow people to post as they please and not try to profit from content or personal information.

However, this is obviously not Facebook in its current form. Facebook is no more a common carrier than any major media outlet. As such it has to be subject to the same rules as other media outlets. That will require much more spending to police its network for false and libelous information, which will mean that Facebook will be much less profitable and Mark Zuckerberg will be much less rich.

But that is Mr. Zuckerberg’s problem. We should not be in the position of begging Zuckerberg to do the right thing as the CEO of Facebook or hoping that a more socially responsible person takes over the company. The law must be adjusted to take away Facebook’s special status. It is a media outlet and it is long past time that it be treated like one.    

The post We Shouldn’t Have to Beg Mark Zuckerberg to Respect Democracy appeared first on Center for Economic and Policy Research.



Source link

قالب وردپرس

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Economy

Book of the Week 7: To Engineer Is Human by Henry Petroski

Published

on



Henry Petroski is a fascinatingly eclectic writer – a nerd with the soul of a poet. I relied upon his book The Pencil: A History in writing the opening chapter of the forthcoming The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy (coming in May), and turned to Success Through Failure while writing Adapt.

I was delighted to receive To Engineer Is Human as a Christmas present – one of those rare surprise presents that actually works out… It’s a wide-ranging collection of essays and musings. Topics range from the experience of being a toddler in a world of adults, through the distinctive pattern of fatigue in a “Speak & Spell”, to the catastrophic collapse of walkways in the lobby of a Kansas City hotel in 1981.

One provocative idea in Petroski’s work is the idea that engineers learn through trial and error more than one might expect. Yes, there are the laws of physics and in principle one can calculate the load-bearing strength of any structure – but in practice, when we try to do something new we will sometimes run into the unexpected.

Not every essay hits the mark – I didn’t feel moved or improved by the analysis of the Oliver Wendell Holmes poem “The Deacon’s Masterpiece” – but like a collection of poems or short stories, if you don’t enjoy one you can skip to the next. Overall I felt I was learning things from Petroski that I wouldn’t learn from anybody else.

Some overlap with the more recent book Success Through Failure, but lots to intrigue.

US: Powell’s / Amazon   UK: Blackwells / Amazon

Receive these posts by email

(You can unsubscribe at any time)

/*
Custom functionality for safari and IE
*/
(function( d ) {
// In case the placeholder functionality is available we remove labels
if ( ( ‘placeholder’ in d.createElement( ‘input’ ) ) ) {
var label = d.querySelector( ‘label[for=subscribe-field-526]’ );
label.style.clip = ‘rect(1px, 1px, 1px, 1px)’;
label.style.position = ‘absolute’;
label.style.height = ‘1px’;
label.style.width = ‘1px’;
label.style.overflow = ‘hidden’;
}

// Make sure the email value is filled in before allowing submit
var form = d.getElementById(‘subscribe-blog-526’),
input = d.getElementById(‘subscribe-field-526’),
handler = function( event ) {
if ( ” === input.value ) {
input.focus();

if ( event.preventDefault ){
event.preventDefault();
}

return false;
}
};

if ( window.addEventListener ) {
form.addEventListener( ‘submit’, handler, false );
} else {
form.attachEvent( ‘onsubmit’, handler );
}
})( document );



Source link

قالب وردپرس

Continue Reading

Economy

Playing Scrooge in “The Best Economy Ever”

Published

on


@TBPInvictus here:

On Presidents Day, it is noteworthy that the current President feels compelled to cap the salaries of those employees who work for the government, who perform duties in the national interest, and  operate essential services for the benefit of the nation.

Salary increases limited to 1% annually. That ought to teach the Deep State!

Read Trump’s February 11 tweet below and try to reconcile it with the Feb 10 excerpt from a White House transmittal to Congress the day before.

Trump tells us — constantly and incessantly — that he has created the “best economy in history.” Let’s ignore the fact that he inherited  a robust GFC recovery from Obama, and then temporarily goosed it with an unfunded trillion dollar tax cut that never got us over 3% GDP on a sustainable basis, and which has since worn off, leaving us at a 2% or so GDP.

While we’re all enjoying the greatest economy ever, could he possibly – unilaterally, no less – cut the proposed pay increases (to 1.0%) for the nation’s Federal employees?

I don’t profess to have any other answer than that the man is a stone-cold hypocrite and liar. I’m open to other possibilities.

The previous day, February 10, 2020 (emphasis mine):

I am transmitting an alternative plan for pay adjustments for civilian Federal employees covered by the General Schedule and certain other pay systems in January 2021.

Title 5, United States Code, authorizes me to implement alternative plans for pay adjustments for civilian Federal employees covered by the General Schedule and certain other pay systems if, because of “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare,” I view the increases that would otherwise take effect as inappropriate.

[…]

We must maintain efforts to put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course; Federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases. Accordingly, I have determined that it is appropriate to exercise my authority to set alternative pay adjustments for 2021 pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 5303(b) and 5 U.S.C. 5304a.

Specifically, I have determined that for 2021 the across-the-board base pay increase will be limited to 1.0 percent and locality pay percentages will remain at their 2020 levels. This alternative pay plan decision will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well‑qualified Federal workforce.

This is rank hypocrisy. I don’t know who else is flagging this, but:

 

Greatest. Economy. Ever.

The post Playing Scrooge in “The Best Economy Ever” appeared first on The Big Picture.



Source link

قالب وردپرس

Continue Reading

Economy

Arguments for Compulsory Vaccination

Published

on


The Connecticut legislature wants to abolish the last non-medical exception for the compulsory vaccination of children, following in the steps of five other state governments (“Connecticut Lawmakers Brace for Public Hearings on Vaccination Bills,” Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2010). Two serious economic arguments can be made in favor of this measure. (It wouldn’t protect against the coronavirus, for which there is yet no vaccine, but this epidemic is certainly a motivation or an excuse for strengthening compulsory vaccination.)

The first argument is a public good argument, which can be summarized as follows. Everybody potentially benefits from other individuals being vaccinated, the main beneficiary being those whose age or state of health precludes vaccination. Immunization through vaccination is thus a public good, to the production of which everybody must contribute. A large part of this contribution consists in having oneself vaccinated. In order to prevent potential free riders from skirting vaccination while benefiting from that of others—benefiting from the so-called “herd immunity”—compulsory vaccination is justified. Richard Epstein’s article “Let the Shoemaker Stick to His Last” (Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 46:3, 2003) can be interpreted this way.

The second argument for “compulsory” vaccination relates to the fact that, nowadays, it is, thus far, advocated only for children as a condition for admission in public schools (or perhaps private schools too). A child, the argument goes, is, by definition, too young to know where his own interest lies, especially in probabilistic choices such as between the risk and consequences of catching the disease on one side, and the inconvenience and risk of vaccination on the other side. The child’s parents must make the choice. However, as was famously said in a slightly different context:

A priori, parents would ideally always be willing and able to protect children from tobacco themselves. If this happened, there would be little need for governments to duplicate such efforts. Perfect parents, however, are rare.

This statement is due to Prabhat Jha et al., “The Economic Rationale for Intervention in the Tobacco Market,” in Prabhat Jha and Frank J. Chaloupka, Eds., Tobacco Control in Developing Countries (World Bank and Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 164. Note that the title of the book is a misnomer, for it is concerned as much with rich countries as developing ones.

The validity the two arguments for compulsory vaccination, even for children, is not obvious.

The first argument is analogous to the one that Thomas Hobbes, in his 1651 book Leviathan, made for the state in general. Since the security provided by the state is in everybody’s interest—since it is, in today’s terms, a public good—it is also in everybody’s interest not only that everybody contribute to financing the state, but also that the state be the only judge of everybody’s contribution. Otherwise, free riders will ride. Or so claimed Hobbes.

One problem with the Hobbesian argument, as well as with the public-health argument for compulsory vaccination, is that it justifies absolute power. Although Hobbes took the argument very seriously, some would dismiss the fear of tyranny as a slippery-slope argument. As if slippery slopes did not exist. Consider how, in the early 20th century, compulsory vaccination was used to legalize forced sterilization. The famous 1927 Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Bell (274 U.S. 200) said it clearly:

The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.

It was not an abstract matter. The decision legalized previous and future forced sterilizations against individuals deemed to be “imbecile,” “feebleminded,” “defective,” or “socially inadequate.” It is estimated that more than 65,000 Americans were forcibly sterilized up to the 1980s. The last sterilization statute, in Mississippi, was only repealed in 2008. (On this topic, see Paul A. Lombardo, Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell [John Hopkins University Press,2008].)

Another problem with the public-good argument is that, technically, it only applies to goods or services unanimously desired. If basic security against aggression can be assumed to be a public good, the assumption becomes less valid as it is extended to other goods or services. Indeed, from what we can observe in the anti-vaxxer movements, many people do not want vaccination because they think that its cost is higher than its benefits for them or their children. From the point of view of a philosopher-king, this may be true or not, but it is not correct to think that there is no “objective” risk. For example, philosopher Mark Navin (who believes that compulsory vaccination is morally justified) cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention according to whom the DTaP vaccine (against diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough) causes long-term seizures or brain damage in “only” one out 1,000,000 children (Values and Vaccine Refusal: Hard Questions in Ethics [Routledge, 2016]).

Furthermore, there is a good economic argument against government pretending to determine the “optimal” vaccination coverage. University of Chicago economist Tomas Philipson brilliantly argued that the fewer the number of people who get vaccinated, the higher the risk factor for the unvaccinated, and the higher the latter’s incentives to get vaccinated (or to use other prevention measures). (See notably his “Economic Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases,” in A.J. Culyer and J.P. Newhouse, Eds., Handbook of Health Economics, Vol. 1 [Elsevier Science B.V., 2000].)

As for the argument that imperfect parents cannot be trusted to make decisions in the best interest of their children, the basic counterargument is quite simple: have you seen many perfect politicians and perfect bureaucrats? Despite a few extreme and troubling cases, parents have been genetically hard-wired to look out for their children’s interests. There is no such hard-wiring for the state.

To be clear—and to this extent that this may seem relevant—I am not arguing that the anti-vaxxers are right. In fact, I don’t agree with their evaluation of costs, but I don’t claim that their children belong to me either.

In this short post, I have only scratched the surface of the issue. It may get especially pressing if an epidemic scare grips the public. It will be interesting to see if populists affirm the primacy of individual choices or, at least, the presumption of individual liberty or, instead, just follow a frightened and irrational mob.

(48 COMMENTS)



Source link

قالب وردپرس

Continue Reading

Trending