It Is Way Past the Time to Update the Communications Act of 1996

social media
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

If you have been using the Internet for the past 25 years, you know how radically it has changed. And yet, no comprehensive regulations have been updated since then.

The news is full of complaints about tech companies getting too big and too powerful. Social media is often the focus of complaints. We often hear that these companies are resistant to changes and regulations, but that is not entirely true. 

On Facebook's site concerning regulations, they say "To keep moving forward, tech companies need standards that hold us all accountable. We support updated regulations on key issues."

Facebook may be at the center of fears and complaints, but they keep growing. Two billion users and growing.

There are four issues that address that they feel need new regulations.

Combating foreign election interference
We support regulations that will set standards around ads transparency and broader rules to help deter foreign actors, including existing US proposals like the Honest Ads Act and Deter Act.

Protecting people’s privacy and data
We support updated privacy regulations that will set more consistent data protection standards that work for everyone.

Enabling safe and easy data portability between platforms
We support regulation that guarantees the principle of data portability. If you share data with one service, you should be able to move it to another. This gives people choice and enables developers to innovate.

Supporting thoughtful changes to Section 230
We support thoughtful updates to internet laws, including Section 230, to make content moderation systems more transparent and to ensure that tech companies are held accountable for combatting child exploitation, opioid abuse, and other types of illegal activity.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first major overhaul of telecommunications law in almost 62 years. Its main goal was stated as allowing "anyone [to] enter any communications business -- to let any communications business compete in any market against any other." The FCC said that they believed the Act had "the potential to change the way we work, live and learn." They were certainly correct in that. But they continued that they expected that it would affect "telephone service -- local and long distance, cable programming and other video services, broadcast services and services provided to schools."

And it did affect those things. But communications went much further and much faster than the government and now they need to play some serious catchup. It is much harder to catch up than it is to keep up. 

 

The Virtual Internship

workplace
The in-person internship

Internships for college students (and sometimes high school students) have long been a good experience. They help young people develop a professional aptitude, learn real-world skills, and often create an opportunity for a follow-up job. They took a hit during the pandemic with offices closed and a reluctance on both sides to be out in the world.

Virtual internships became a thing. I assume some existed before but not in great numbers. I read about some undergrads at Brown University who began Intern From Home in March 2020. They wanted to salvage internships during the pandemic for classmates with a free, simple-to-use platform. They were connecting students at more than 200 colleges with virtual internships and it looks like they have doubled that.

They were not the first to do this. Sites like virtualinternships.com offer college and high school students internship opportunities.

When I was a college student many moons ago, internships were rare. When my sons were undergrads, internships were fairly common but often unpaid and in some cases, students had to pay tuition in order to get credit for the experience. If money is an issue for you as a student (as it was for me), then an unpaid summer or semester was not likely. The National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) reported that the average hourly wage for undergraduate interns rose from $16.35 in 2014 to $18.06 in 2017.

Career exploration is a big plus for internships. I knew several fellow undergrads who did internships or worked in the field that they planned on after graduation and the experience led them to decide that they did not want to pursue that career. That is disappointing but important.

Reading a report from the Center for Research on College to Workforce Transitions CCWT and other sites all list similar benefits for the internship experience.

    Gain valuable work experience
    Explore a career path
    Give yourself an edge in the job market
    Develop and refine skills
    Receive financial compensation.
    Network with professionals in the field
    Gain confidence
    Transition into a job

 

infographic

Infographic - for larger size see ccwt.wceruw.org

It is disappointing that a new study of online internships shows that, among more than 10,000 students at 11 colleges, most virtual internships last year went to students in middle- and upper-income families. Also more positions were unpaid than paid. (Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions at the University of Wisconsin- Madison) They also found that there were higher levels of dissatisfaction with virtual internships compared to in-person experiences. Not unlike online learning, students listed limited opportunities for engagement and learning.

The Facebook Board, Trump and Section 230

facebookFacebook's "supreme court" decided recently to uphold the ban on Donald Trump. For Trump, Facebook was never his vector of choice to get out his messages. He used Twitter and they banned him for life.

The Faceboard board upheld the company's decision to remove Trump. The ban had come after the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Their claim had been that he had broken Facebook's rules about praising violence.

The board actually criticized the company for the indefinite suspension. They recommended that the company either ban Trump permanently or set a time frame for when he can return. Facebook said it's now considering the ruling and will determine a "clear and proportionate" action.

The problem is one for a number of social sites that have unmoderated content. So why not moderate user content? For one thing, it is difficult and labor-intensive (though companies are trying have AI help. But another thing concerns Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which was passed in 1996. It says that an “interactive computer service” can’t be treated as the publisher or speaker of third-party content. This protects websites from lawsuits if a user posts something illegal (there are exceptions for copyright violations, sex work-related material, and violations of federal criminal law). Section 230 was written so website owners could moderate sites without worrying about legal liability and it is critical for social media networks, though it applies to many sites and services, including news outlets with comment sections. The Electronic Frontier Foundation calls it “the most important law protecting internet speech.”

The decision the board handed down is more about Facebook than it is about Trump and it was more critical about the way Facebook enforces its rules in what it sees as an arbitrary way. Not so much in support of Trump, the board felt that an indefinite suspension appeared nowhere in Facebook's rules and violates principles of freedom of expression.

Interestingly, President Donald Trump released an executive order targeting Section 230 and social media back in May 2020 and he ly backed Republican efforts to change the law in Congress. After President Biden’s election, he has pushed for the abolition of Section 230 abolition.

We haven't heard the last of Trump, Facebook, or Section 230.

Should Students and Their Parents Be Taking Fake News 101?

news

A podcast from Marketplace offered this question: Should kids be taking Fake News 101? My first thought was that they are already getting that class. I based that on my friends who teach in K-12 schools and who have information literacy as part of their curriculum. Validating sources and information has been part of the curriculum for a very long time. It was there when I started teaching almost fifty years ago. Of course, the Internet as a news source is a more recent issue. Has information literacy changed?

The headline says "kids" which suggests K-12 but the "Fake News 101" sounds like an introductory college course. I know that information literacy online and offline was required at a community college I worked at, and validating sources online was part of my social media and communications courses I taught at the undergraduate and graduate level. 

The term "fake news" came into the discussion with President Trump who used it to attack media reports he didn't like and broadly all mainstream media. That isn't something you want to teach. But news that was inaccurate has been around as long as there has been news. I'm sure town criers sometimes called out things that turned out not to be true. 

The term "fake" isn't really the correct term. "Fake" means a thing that is not genuine or a forgery. The news items often being labeled fake in those Trump days were not being singled out because they were not really news. It was news. It generally came from a credible news outlet, such as The New York Times or Washington Post, and in the majority of instances had facts to back it up. 

But, as the podcast points out, from politics to COVID-19, there is a lot of false and inaccurate information on the internet. I would be very reluctant to tell students that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are credible news sources, but we know that many people get their "news" from these places rather than newspapers.

Helen Lee Bouygues was the guest on that podcast and she is the founder and president of the Reboot Foundation, which teaches critical thinking skills to combat fake news. She says we’re just not inclined to second-guess information when it’s flooding our social media feeds.

Some points she makes:

"It’s actually just a natural human reaction to not want to seek challenging views. And then the second point, there have been studies already conducted that if you are pounded by lies about the information, over time you actually do start believing it."

She prefers that rather than just having teachers "give the facts and get to the answer" that teachers and parents of children, especially of younger age, have children challenge what they’re reading on websites."

She is correct that "this is a skill that can be taught, but it’s not something that [is] innate."

Lee Bouygues based is based in France and she says that there is a standard pedagogy to have students writing papers differently. Students are told to "hone in on your own convictions and the way you write a paper is by thinking about opposing views and counter-arguments that will help you better refine your own thinking. So by looking at counter-arguments, you’re actually doing more metacognition also, which is obviously thinking about your own thinking, which is so important for critical thinking."

Certainly, this skill needs to be honed in older students and in entire communities. I taught an undergraduate critical thinking course and was continually surprised at the gaps I saw in my students' ability to do more critical thinking.

Teaching how to question assumptions, reason through logic, separate facts from opinions and emotions, validate sources, and seek out a diversity of thoughts, facts and opinions are life skills that need to be learned and relearned as the world of information changes.