A proposal for tech regulation

Michael Lind writes,

Define online opinion and video platforms as regular publishers, subject to traditional publishing regulations that seek to deter dissemination of libels, profanity, obscenity, intellectual property theft and so on. And define all the other big tech firms either as common carriers or public accommodations that are clothed in a public interest.

It sounds like an interesting idea, but it needs to be spelled out. I am not sure that I really understand what Lind means. And I am not sure that I would agree with him if I did.

I interpret Lind as saying that Amazon Web Services and Apple are common carriers, so that they cannot exclude Parler. But Parler is a regular publisher, so it is subject to all of the laws that apply to magazines.

I first learned about the Internet in terms of Ed Krol’s “pony express” metaphor. You put your content into an envelope, and the Internet delivers it to the recipient the way that the Pony Express used to deliver mail. In this metaphor, all of the responsibility for the content is on the sender, and all of the responsibility for what gets done with the content is on the recipient. The Pony Express riders who are in the middle are not responsible. That means that the companies that manufacture the routers are not responsible. The Internet backbone providers are not responsible. The Internet access providers are not responsible. They are all common carriers, if I understand Lind’s use of that term. Common carriers can plausibly deny responsibility for what the user sees.

Suppose we went with Lind’s system as I interpret it. If I were running YouTube, I would want to classify it as a common carrier, so that it is not allowed to exclude any content. I would push the responsibility for complying with publishing laws out to those who post content on YouTube. But that means I would have to stop creating “feeds” that offer suggestions of what to watch. The job of creating feeds is a publishing job, and YouTube would have to outsource that if it wants to avoid the burdens of being a publisher.

But what about, say, Gmail? Does the spam filter make Gmail a publisher?