When did tech become evil?

by Ian Campbell June 28, 2021

Okay, let me sound like an old guy for a second. I received my Computer Science degree in 1986. At that time technology had great potential, with Windows 3.1 providing a glimpse of the future interface between user and machine, and products such as Microsoft Flight Simulator (as crude as it was at the time) a look at the future immersive user experience. “Information at your fingertips” was Bill’s mantra at the time but Microsoft didn’t make it happen — that company was too busy with an animated dog on your screen. It was the rise of HTTP in the 90’s that forever changed the way we communicate.

So where did we go wrong? Section 230 might have a lot to do with it.

The internet created the opportunity for the world to communicate and openly share information. It was a great moment and for a long time this was a noble effort by tech to unite all. No more. Today our communication is open only to the extent the platforms we use deem it appropriate, with pages of terms and conditions (that few read) providing that platform with free use of our information. Like most “good things” the free flow of information was quickly abused, and no one argues some public communications crosses the line to abhorrent. That line unfortunately seems to move not based on decency but only the varying political whims of a few. Zuckerberg and Dorsey in particular seem to be competing for the title of most evil CEO in history with their wildly meandering ethical lines.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects platforms from legal liability for the actions of the users of their platforms. That made sense when these platforms were passive holders of user-generated content but with their active editing, editorializing, and blocking of posters, we are long past the point of a “hand’s off, good faith” platform.

It’s only a matter of time before section 230 is changed to hold these platforms to the same standards of other organizations. I’m not sure I want to see section 230 completely go but it can’t stay as is. When it was enacted in 1996 I too believed it would be the foundation that supported the growth and freedom of the internet. There would be no Yelp, Facebook, or Twitter without section 230. Unfortunately, today these corporations use it more as a weapon than a shield. Glassdoor for example can post questionable company reviews and face few repercussions while the reviews on Yelp are no longer as trustworthy as they once were.

It’s time to change section 230 and let the courts decide or I fear we face a dim internet future.