In the week leading up to Election Day, The Verge is running a series of editorials about what we’re voting for — not candidates but the ideas that move us to engage with the electoral process in the first place.
At the start of a new decade, the internet is fragile and fractured.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the digital divide into sharp relief, with millions of Americans struggling to get online. Large social networks have created new venues for speech and creativity but at the cost of harassment, radicalization, eroded privacy, and an uncertain future for small businesses and media outlets. Online spaces have never been more important. Because of that, their problems have never been more obvious.
Lawmakers and regulators are aware of these problems. This year has seen plans to change foundational internet laws, multiple federal agencies launching investigations, and a scathing 450-page congressional report about Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple. But too often, politicians have been sidetracked by political vendettas or short-term fixes. Instead, they should be helping shape a better digital world by regulating tech’s powerful incumbents and encouraging new alternatives.
Take the countless proposals to change Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law saying web services can’t be sued over user-generated content. Some of these plans are aimed at important problems like abuse and misinformation. But few are backed by evidence that they’ll help fix these issues, leading to badly designed rules like FOSTA-SESTA, which may actually have hurt the communities it was supposed to help. Some members of Congress have even promoted false information about Section 230, like claims that the rule only protects “neutral platforms” that don’t moderate content. If the people who make laws can’t (or won’t) correctly explain how those laws work, why should anyone trust them?
Broadband access is a different challenge, but it runs into similar problems. Despite pleas and subsidies from the federal government, internet service providers have failed to provide adequate service to substantial parts of the country. When communities have tried to take matters…