Why Elon Musk’s Digital Town Square Model for Twitter Remains Elusive

When Elon Musk acquired Twitter in October, he sent a prominent virtue signal.  Musk indicated that under his ownership, Twitter would be “a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner.” 

This notion was quickly picked up in numerous glowing tweets, then amplified by media worldwide.  But we have learned in the ensuing months that there never was and never will be a digital town square.

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Two Teachable First Amendment Moments

Since Election Day 2022, we have experienced two extraordinary teachable moments about the First Amendment. Those all along the political spectrum should review them as a crash-course refresher for the clear red line that our nation’s Founding Fathers envisioned when they crafted this bedrock of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Elon Musk, Twitter’s new owner, has decided to lift a nearly three-year ban on using the popular social media platform that had been imposed on Donald J. Trump during the final days of his presidency. Musk indicated this reversal represented “the will of the people,” based on a quick, unscientific online poll he posted that indicated a slim majority approved of former president Trump being allowed to use Twitter again to reach the 88 million people who had been his followers at the time of his banishment.

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Why Russia Should Be in the Rearview Mirror for Telecom Companies

Since Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine in February, companies with a history of operating in complex and challenging markets have been weighing the difficult realities of their responsibilities to the people they serve. Those that supply essential goods and services, such as internet connectivity, pharmaceuticals, food, and consumer products have confronted difficult choices. The war has highlighted which companies must choose between providing essential services and managing the reputational and regulatory risks of operating as usual in Russia.

The risks that telecom companies operate in are evident. This month, telecommunications company VEON – the owner of Ukraine’s largest mobile company, Kyivstar, and Russia’s third-largest mobile company, Beeline – announced it would start selling its operations in Russia. This is a significant announcement because Beeline is a company providing essential internet connectivity service to the Russian population and because it represents a noticeable turning point.

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TikTok Is China’s Trojan Horse

People are easy to dupe.  Give us something for free and we will open the door to just about anything in return, including our most sensitive family, health, and financial information. 

The ancient Greeks knew something about the human psyche when they built a massive wooden horse and put it outside the enemy gates at Troy.  Unsuspecting Trojans marveled at the gift and ushered it inside unexamined.  Hidden in the horse were the Greek men of war who emerged to sack the city. 

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Consumers May Hold the Key to Confronting Election Misinformation

NewsGuard is a company created by a team of journalists who assess the credibility and transparency of news and information, including whether a website repeatedly publishes false content.

Recently, it found that 113 websites out of 7,000 reviewed were spreading election misinformation in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 presidential vote and are still active in doing so.  Of these, 81% have continued to spread false claims about the election and its aftermath, including about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Invest in Better Digital Privacy Protection Along With Faster Broadband Speeds

Among the key provisions of the trillion-dollar Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (aka the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal) signed into law by President Joe Biden on Monday, Nov. 15, is $65 billion that will be dedicated to improving access to reliable high-speed Internet.  This will include both increased availability of broadband to more than 30 million Americans who do not have minimally acceptable broadband speeds, and assistance in lowering prices for Internet services so that more households can afford better Internet service.

This new law aimed at closing the digital divide also should be used to close the digital privacy divide – the gap between more personal information being stored and shared and the level of privacy protection for online users that is provided to them.

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Attacking Free Speech Doesn’t Just Hurt Tech: America Must Stay True to Its First Amendment Principles

The First Amendment is one of the cornerstone principles that define this nation. There is no such thing as freedom if we cannot speak freely.   

Today, however, our nation seems less interested in protecting free speech than at any time I can recall. Major advocates of free speech like the ACLU are wavering in their support of our First Amendment, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are fighting for the government to censor online speech.  

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A Third-Way Approach to Regulating Facial Recognition Systems

The use of facial recognition systems powered by algorithms and software continues to raise controversy given their potential use by law enforcement and other government agencies.  For over a decade, the Department of Commerce’s National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) has evaluated facial recognition to identify and report gaps in its capabilities.  Its most recent report in 2019 quantified the effect of age, race, and sex on facial recognition accuracy.

The greatest discrepancies that NIST measured were higher false-positive rates in women, African Americans, and particularly African American women.  It noted, “False positives might present a security concern to the system owner, as they may allow access to impostors.  False positives also might present privacy and civil rights and civil liberties concerns such as when matches result in additional questioning, surveillance, errors in benefit adjudication, or loss of liberty.”

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Digital COVID Vaccine Passports Should Be Antitrust-Exempt

Our nation’s momentum toward accelerated COVID-19 vaccine distribution is fully apparent.  President Joe Biden has publicly urged state governments to make every adult in the U.S. eligible for a vaccine by May 1.

With this fast-track schedule, increasing attention now should be focused on how Americans will be able to digitally verify their vaccine completion status, not only for travel abroad but possibly even to get into local sporting events, theaters, hotels, or cruise ships.

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How California’s Net Neutrality Law Can Inform Federal Digital Privacy Policymaking

One of the major unresolved issues in crafting comprehensive federal digital privacy legislation has carried over from last year to the current 117th Congress.  This regards whether current or future state privacy laws should be preempted so that there only will be one uniform national set of enforceable rules regarding the collection, storage, and transmission of personally identifiable information.

A one-size-fits-all approach makes intuitive sense since online services and social media are not confined to traditional geographic boundaries.  And absent a fully federal approach, there is the possibility that digital companies will be faced with a crazy-quilt pattern of regulatory compliance, increasing both their potential legal liability and the cost of doing business.  In short, this is a scenario for Plan A.

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