Coming soon to a podcast, app store and metaverse near you…. Content moderation rules

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In 1993, freelance journalist Julian Dibbell published his now famous article in the Village Voice titled “A rape in cyberspace » . He drew attention to the need for community standards to prevent users of virtual world services from forcing online avatars into unwanted, grotesque and violent sexual acts. These community standards have evolved over decades into the complex and detailed content moderation standards in place at social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

But social media platforms are on the way to becoming legacy services as companies scramble to position themselves in the emerging market for metaverse services. The handwriting on the wall came into sharp focus this week, when Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, reported that its traditional social media service lost around 1 million daily active users in the last quarter – its first-ever drop. Meta leaves social networks for the metaverse.

A key question is whether regulators will follow the company into the metaverse through legislation establishing content moderation rules. The answer is probably yes, and that’s a good thing.

This question arose in less futuristic terms this week when the content moderation wars hit podcast distributors. Musicians, including veterans such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, have removed their music from Spotify in protest at Joe Rogan’s podcasts which featured substantial amounts of Covid-19 misinformation. In a choice between its $100 million investment in exclusive access to Rogan shows and the music catalogs of a few older rock stars, Spotify has opted to push ahead with its future as the number one distributor. of podcasts.

But in doing so, Spotify also began highlighting the procedures and processes that have become standard fare for social media companies – it disclosed its standards for Covid 19 misinformation and announced it would insert labels warning for podcasts containing incorrect information. It’s only a matter of time before controversies over regulatory content moderation reach Spotify and other podcast distributors.

Indeed, they are already there. In today’s Senate Judiciary Committee markup on the Open Apps Markets Bill, Senator Ted Cruz offers an amendment that would prevent app stores, which are the main distributors of podcasts, from discriminating against apps based on political or religious views. The amendment, which Sen. Cruz said was designed to respond to app store decisions last January to remove the Parler app that was widely used by conservatives, was narrowly defeated in a vote by roll call 10-12.

A non-discrimination policy rule for social media, app stores, and pod distributors is hugely controversial and deserves a lot more thought than a hasty amendment during a markup on an issues-focused bill. of competition.

But the transparency and due process requirements make sense for both legacy social media companies and new distributors of metaverse apps, podcasts and products. Australia has explicitly included application delivery services in its new online safety law which imposes additional procedural safeguards.

US lawmakers could include app stores in content moderation legislation for the simple expediency of mimicking the extraordinarily broad definition of “interactive computer servicein Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

As the jurist Eric Goldman said underlinecourt cases dating back to 2013 ruled that app stores were “interactive computer services” within the meaning of Section 230. For the same reason, podcast and metaverse distributors would also be covered by Section 230.

As a result, a new content moderation bill aimed at putting in place transparency and due process requirements would automatically cover services such as distributors of apps, podcasts and metaverse products if it relied on the definition of “interactive computer services” in Section 230. Bipartisan Platform Accountability and Transparency Act (PACTE law) presented by Senators Brian Schatz and John Thune does just that.

Critics of regulation often refer to the “pace problem” when opposing a strong government role in shaping the development of digital industries. Technology, they say, moves fast and government moves slowly, so regulators will never be able to keep pace with the industries they seek to regulate.

But lawmakers looking to cast a regulatory net around digital industries can address this pace issue by giving digital regulators sweeping powers to update their rules in light of changing technology and business models. Otherwise, they will create a regulatory net for the past and the industries of the future will fall through.

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