The novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell has best been defined by its massive cultural impact, particularly on the topic of surveillance and censorship. Today, the Senate Democrats’ plan for regulation of social media, technology firms, and thus, the Internet, was leaked, providing the nation with an early look at what could be considered the most Orwellian legislation ever produced.
The policy paper, entitled Potential Policy Proposals for Regulation of Social Media and Technology Firms, was written by the staff of Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia). Leaked to Axios, the paper outlines a plan to combat Russian disinformation campaigns on social media by essentially locking down the Internet. “Today’s tools seem almost built for Russian disinformation techniques,” according to Senator Warner, who continues on to state that things will only get worse.
The plan has many disturbing points. Warner suggests mandatory location verification, which would force social media platforms to disclose the location of every single user account and of all posts made on the platform. He suggests that all identities should be verified on social media as well, stating that social media should only allow “authentic” accounts, with possible punishment by the SEC for not complying with such a rule. Without explanation of how such a process would be possible, Warner wants tech companies to label bots, or face punishment as a result. Warner wants popular technology defined as “essential facilities”, which subjects that technology to further rules and controls by the government. The paper also wants tech companies to turn over their data and algorithms to be audited and pored over by the government, allowing the government to access a treasure trove of data that previously was inaccessible without a warrant. Furthermore, the plan calls for further revision of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in order to allow users to demand takedown of certain content while holding the platforms liable for not complying with those demands.
The plan has a million and one reasons for concern. The internet was founded on a spirit of freedom, and while that freedom does produce some negative concerns, it is one that is cherished by those who seek to participate in discussions that would be prone to censorship. With the advent of conservative censorship on social media, this move is particularly concerning- quite a few conservatives would suffer under this plan, which would force disclosure of anonymous conservatives on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media networks. It would disclose their names and their location, forcing them into the public arena against their will. Furthermore, these accounts may not even be deemed “authentic” under this new plan; Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms have made it clear that movements such as the one that pushed for the release of the House Intelligence Committee majority FISA memo and the #WalkAway movement are simply Russian bots in their eyes and that as such they are fit for censorship. This plan puts power in the government’s hands to determine what is considered to be “authentic” versus what a “bot” is, and that should concern anyone of any political opinion.
Furthermore, this plan allows for massive data collection and invasions of privacy that Big Brother would be proud of. By forcing tech firms to turn over data, processes, and algorithms for research regarding “radicalization”, “user propagated misinformation,” harassment, and scams, we would put in the hands of the government an unprecedented amount of information that would undoubtedly invade on the basic privacy rights of Americans guaranteed to them under the U.S. Constitution. In addition to this, it also allows the government to define what is right and proper in regards to the truth; we know from Nineteen Eighty-Four that just as the Ministry of Truth did not engage in truth, we should not allow the potential for corruption to occur through such an act of Congress. This would allow for a partisan government to decide what is considered “radical” and what is “misinformation.” If this were a Hillary Clinton administration, and Fox News were to state that there were rampant FISA abuse or that the FBI and DOJ acted irresponsibly during their investigations of Clinton, that could be considered “radical” or misinformation under this plan. That’s the danger. No government should be allowed to determine what political speech should be allowed in the public forum, and frankly, this appears to just be an attempt to silence conservatives even further than what Silicon Valley appears to be doing at the moment.
We shouldn’t stand for this. This plan is a fundamental intrusion on our privacy rights, and it contradicts what is actually useful about the Internet. While Russian disinformation undoubtedly exists, we need to consider if that threat is worth inhibiting the rights of Americans and further regulating business in the name of national security. This is why it’s absolutely imperative that in November, our nation votes for the party that isn’t pushing this: the Republicans.