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Internet Censorship in 2023

Updated: Jan 24

Internet censorship has been happening in communist countries like China, Iran, and North Korea for years, but now it’s coming to the western world too. The US, Canada, the UK, and Europe all have online speech-censoring legislation pending.

USA. The USA introduced the Kids Online Safety Act in Feb 2021. The bill is still sitting in Congress, but it is expected to pass this year with bipartisan support.

If passed, the Federal Trade Commission would be responsible for setting requirements for covered platforms - defined as applications or services that connect to the internet and are likely to be used by minors - to protect minors from online harms such as sexual exploitation.

The natural response to this Bill will be that sites need to perform some kind of age verification and collect KYC from all users, which puts everyone’s personal information into a honey pot for data breaches, and nobody will be able to access anything on the internet anonymously.

The US government will be the ones, rather than the kid's parents, deciding what is safe for kids online, which might lead to further censorship of content. The FTC can sue sites that “make kids unsafe,” and the parents can also sue the tech company for damages.

There’s also a Supreme Court case to be heard on Feb 21, Gonzalas v. Google, about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law passed in 1996 that governs online speech and protects platforms from liability for the content posted by its users.

Essentially, this case will determine whether it’s the companies themselves or the government that should decide what content is allowed on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Republicans make up the majority on the Supreme Court and have long accused social media platforms of censoring them. Democrats, by contrast, as we have seen through the recent Twitter Files, are pressuring sites to remove content, calling it “misinformation.”

The decision of this case will have ripple effects. For years, the platforms were shielded from legal liability for the content posted by others, and critics called the law a “get out of jail free” card. The case was brought by a family of an American killed in Paris during an attack by Islamic extremists. The family argues that Section 230 should not shield YouTube from liability for publishing videos that support terrorism and promoting them to specific users with its algorithm. The suit argues that a recommendation of a video should be treated as though YouTube published the video, and YouTube should be liable for harm resulting from the content.

Joe Biden and the DOJ have filed briefs asking the Supreme Court to increase liability for social media platforms. If Gonzalas wins, the social media companies can likely expect an onslaught of lawsuits blaming everything wrong that ever happens on some video someone watched.

On February 22, the Supreme Court will hear Twitter v. Taamneh. It deals with a related question about when platforms are legally responsible for supporting terrorism under federal law. These decisions, if the plaintiffs win, could fundamentally change how the internet works because it could require the removal of algorithms entirely.

Meanwhile, Texas and Florida have state cases that are fighting to require social media platforms to pay fines if they remove content simply based on expressing a right-leaning viewpoint. In Florida, a federal judge has agreed with the industry groups, ruling that free speech standards should apply to social media companies. Texas rejected the idea that private corporations have any first amendment rights.

Canada. In Canada, they have a pending Bill C-11 called the Online Streaming Act, which was introduced in Feb 2022 and approved by the House of Commons. It would give the Canadian government the power to limit what Canadians can see online. These regulations will apply to user-generated content, and if the content isn’t diverse enough, it can’t be seen by Canadians. They can also designate anyone as a “broadcaster” and force them to r contribute to the Canadian media fund. The Canadian senate will vote in February. If passed, Canada will have a completely different internet from the rest of the world, just like North Korea or China.

The United Kingdom. The Online Safety Bill, which was introduced in May of 2021, would impose fines that are the greater of either $18 million pounds or 10% of a Company’s revenue if the Company fails to prevent a minor from viewing “illegal content.” The likely response will be for tech companies to require age-verification KYC from all users, making permanent deplatforming possible. Another weird provision written into the Bill is that the government will have the power to ban services that allow funds to be transferred, which could impact the crypto wallet.

European Union. There are several proposed laws on the table in Europe. The Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act are part of the five digital services package, which is set to be complete by 2030. These two were passed in the spring of 2022 and will start being enforced in 2023. Each country will have a “digital services coordinator” and “trusted flaggers” who will submit reports about illegal content and disinformation to the government. Violators will face fines of up to 6% of their annual income. It will also likely impose KYC on social media platforms in the name of KYC. In a crisis, social media platforms will be instructed to enhance content moderation and tweak their algorithms to promote safety.

Conclusion. I predict VPN technology will become increasingly important in the coming years and certainly hope decentralized social media will be developed quickly!

By Sasha Hodder, Crypto Attorney

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