How to Stop the Flow of Toxic News

Facebook’s political hate speech announcement needs a next step

Paul Greenberg

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“Exxon Valdez Oil Spill — 0038” by ARLIS Reference is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Facebook has announced that it will start more aggressively policing hate speech from politicians instead of blankedly tagging hateful talk as “newsworthy” and letting it slide.

Great, I say. But there’s more it has to do to make things right:

The polluter has to pay.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from two decades of environmental reporting it’s this simple rule. When industries like coal and oil are allowed to reap extraordinary profits from the environment without paying for the cost of the damage they inflict they have zero incentive to behave as responsible members of society.

In the last few years I’ve been writing more and more about the Tech Industry and increasingly I’m coming to the same conclusion with respect to polluters of the media environment. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media companies are the major conduits through which fake news and incitements to intolerance pour into the nation’s collective reservoir of consciousness. And yet as things stand today the companies that are most responsible for dumping media toxic waste are the the least liable under the law. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act states “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” In other words, right now, the owners of all those pipes that are dumping all that toxicity into our media environment explicitly don’t pay.

As we continue to try to undo the most poisonous legacies of the Trump administration, it’s imperative that we reform our media laws so that they more closely behave like environmental laws. We have a Clean Water Act that prohibits the dumping of harmful chemicals and refuse into our waterways. We need our Communications Decency Act to behave more like a Clean Media Act — a law that would make the polluter pay, not only for the cost of dirtying the environment but for the time and expense it takes to clean it up.

To extend the metaphor it’s worth looking a bit more deeply into what makes The Clean Water Act so effective. The Clean Water Act pledges that the…

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org