Startup News Digest 6/28/19

Big Story. Examining the benefits of Section 230. In the last week, industry, business, and academic leaders from across the political spectrum have stood up to defend the wide range of benefits arising from Section 230 protections.

Former Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.)—who drafted the protections enshrined in Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act along with then-Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)—said in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that ending content moderation practices to enforce ambiguous politically neutral standards means there would no longer be safeguards preventing digital platforms "from becoming extremist hubs.” Eric Goldman, law professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, echoed Cox’s sentiment in a recent paper, saying that—in addition to promoting free speech—Section 230 promotes pro-competition policies that allow startups to compete with existing Internet giants.

Beyond the free speech and competitive benefits of Section 230, a new report released this week by the Copia Institute found that the protections have helped spur greater investment and innovation in startup ecosystems across the country. The report found that, over the next decade, the protections will result in approximately 4.25 million new jobs and $440 billion in growth to the U.S. economy. 

Although there are numerous benefits to Section 230, lawmakers continue to view the protections as a catch-all for a variety of different concerns about the effectiveness of content moderation practices. Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom took on these competing demands in a recent Morning Consult op-ed, saying that Internet platforms face a lose-lose proposition when it comes to Congress’ scattershot demands over content moderation.

Nuts and Bolts of Content Moderation. This afternoon, Engine and the Charles Koch Institute will be holding the second panel in our three-part series on Internet platforms and user-generated content. We will be discussing the myths of content moderation, including how and why platforms police user content, the differences between platforms and publishers, and the laws behind content moderation. Learn more about the panel and RSVP here.  

Policy Roundup:

The Latest on Chinese tariffs. The U.S. and China have reportedly reached a truce to avoid the latest round of proposed tariffs on remaining imports from China. President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are set to meet on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Japan this weekend and will likely discuss the issue further. The Trump administration has been using the threat of tariffs to convince China to cease their predatory and anti-competitive trade practices, and Engine is concerned that further tariffs would dampen startup activity, chill growth and innovation in the technology sector, and lead to fewer jobs and higher costs if they go into effect.

Engine submits comments in support of Section 101. Engine submitted comments to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property this week in response to their recent series of hearings on the topic of patent subject matter eligibility. Startups in particular rely on Section 101 of the Patent Act, which gives smaller companies protections against trolling behavior, and Engine believes that any changes to the protections would re-open the door for abusive patent litigation.

White House planning social media summit. The Trump administration announced plans to hold a social media summit on July 11 to bring together “digital leaders” to discuss online opportunities and challenges. The announcement came after President Donald Trump lashed out at the practices of social media platforms, and before Twitter announced plans to begin labeling tweets from national political figures that the company would typically remove, if not for them being a matter of public interest.

Federal data privacy efforts hit snag. Progress on a bipartisan federal data privacy framework has slowed in both chambers of Congress as lawmakers remain stuck on key legislative hurdles, including preemption and fiduciary responsibility. Concerns in the Senate about the negotiations surrounding the potential draft bill have also reportedly caused lawmakers to pause their ongoing talks.

CASE Act and due process. Re:Create Coalition Executive Director Joshua Lamel writes about the CASE Act’s creation of a judicial function within the U.S. Copyright Office instead of the judicial branch, and how this provision of the bill raises particularly serious constitutional concerns.

Maine’s governor signs net neutrality bill. Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed legislation that would require Internet service providers who receive state funds to provide “net neutral service” that does not block, throttle, or engage in paid prioritization. Startups in particular support the strong net neutrality protections that were enshrined in the 2015 Open Internet Order but repealed by the FCC in 2017. Earlier this month, over 160 startups joined us in calling on the Senate to quickly pass legislation to reinstate the rules across the country.

Congress looks at Internet platforms’ tech capabilities. Lawmakers on House and Senate panels questioned tech officials about the ways in which their technology is used to influence users and remove extremist content from their digital platforms. Members of a Senate Commerce subcommittee questioned how sites like Google and Facebook use algorithms to influence their users, while tech experts appearing at a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing said that artificial intelligence is not capable — and would likely not ever be fully capable — of removing the full breadth of terrorist and extremist content across the Internet. 

Startup Roundup:

#StartupsEverywhere. Beaufort, South Carolina. The coastal city of Beaufort might not seem like your typical hub of startup activity, but the Beaufort Digital Corridor is working to make the city a destination for those who work in and around the tech industry.