The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reform Section 230 of the Communications Act, following an Executive Order from President Trump.
For the uninitiated, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (1996) is a much criticized clause, which gives immunity to tech platforms for the actions of their users. For example, the recent controversy involving Grime artist Wiley, in which he posted a series of anti-semitic posts to Twitter, cannot be used to sue Twitter Inc for anti-semitism.
It doesn’t take much dot-joining to realise that any change to this rule is going to affect all websites, including the adult industry, in a big way. It was already revised in 2018, as part of the FOSTA/SESTA laws, which led to the shuttering of BackPages.com and its successors.
Although Trump is mostly concerned at what he perceives as ‘censorship’ of his unchecked rantings, the repercussions for the industry could be massive.
The change would see internet platforms become the publisher of all posts to a website, including user generated ones.
That could mean an offensive comment left at the bottom of a page, or a user generated video that violates local laws. This could seriously damage websites ability to offer user uploads.
FCC Commissioner, Senator Josh Hawley, added that the type of offensive content being posted is no longer what lawmakers ‘had in mind’ for Section 230, and the time has come for reform.
Initially, the reforms are aimed at non-compliant advertising which, despite coming from a third-party, and probably via Google or another internet ad broker (seriously, there are others) would mean a website would be considered guilty if a non-compliant advert is served up on the site, despite having limited control over its placement.
It’s a big change to navigate, and the crux of the bill, to punish companies that “display manipulative, behavioral ads or provide data to be used for them” is just vague enough to cause problems for years to come.
But don’t think that this all goes away if Trump fails to win a second term – it is understood that challenger Joe Biden has similar ambitions to gut Section 230 – not least of all to prevent the likes of Trump from having a free-reigning mouthpiece. In other words, both sides want to do the same thing, for opposing reasons.
The real target, however, are advertisers that use social media as a platform for illegal content. So, say an advert appears on a legitimate adult services site advertising escorts. If it turned out that, for example, some of the girls are underage, the website would be considered an accessory to child abuse.
It will take a while to clarify the exact nature of the changes, and only then can we analyze the knock-on effect on the adult industry.
But with both sides planning to take shred FCC Section 230, we can be sure that 2021 is likely to be a watershed year for many parts of the adult and media industry.