Internet Firms as Global Regulators
20 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2018
Date Written: January 22, 2018
The 2016 U.S. presidential election with its problem of so-called “fake news” intensified public debate about Internet intermediaries’ responsibilities for regulating their users’ content and behaviour. German politicians, for example, have proposed legislation to require social media platforms to remove or block criminal content (Eddy and Scott 2017). While the problem of fake news has received significant publicity, it is only the latest in a long line of social problems that governments have delegated to intermediaries. Since the late 1990s in the United Kingdom and early 2000s in the United States, government officials have designated intermediaries as responsible for policing a wide array of online wrongdoing, including child pornography, extremism, illegal gambling, and the illegal online distribution of tobacco (see Tusikov 2016). Many of intermediaries’ efforts as regulators are “voluntary,” that is, intermediaries act in the absence of legislation or formal regal orders but may use non-legally binding industry-draft, state-approved “best practices” to guide their enforcement practices. Further, government and industry actors often refer to these regulatory efforts as “voluntary efforts by the private sector” (Espinel 2013). Voluntary, in this context, is a misnomer as it is direct governmental pressure that prompts intermediaries to accept greater enforcement duties. The goal is to push large intermediaries to exceed their legal responsibilities voluntarily without formally adding statutory requirements. Advocates of this approach, such as the European Commission, approvingly refer to it as “beyond-compliance” regulation (European Commission 2013, 5-6).
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