Automation in Moderation
65 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2020 Last revised: 19 Nov 2020
Date Written: January 17, 2020
This Article assesses recent efforts to encourage online platforms to use automated means to prevent the dissemination of unlawful online content before it is ever seen or distributed. As lawmakers in Europe and around the world closely scrutinize platforms’ “content moderation” practices, automation and artificial intelligence appear increasingly attractive options for ridding the Internet of many kinds of harmful online content, including defamation, copyright infringement, and terrorist speech. Proponents of these initiatives suggest that requiring platforms to screen user content using automation will promote healthier online discourse and will aid efforts to limit Big Tech’s power.
In fact, however, the regulations that incentivize platforms to use automation in content moderation come with unappreciated costs for civil liberties and unexpected benefits for platforms. The new automation techniques exacerbate existing risks to free speech and user privacy and create ripe new sources of information for surveillance, aggravating threats to free expression, associational rights, religious freedoms, and equality. Automation also worsens transparency and accountability deficits. Far from curtailing private power, the new regulations endorse and expand platform authority to police online speech, with little in the way of oversight and few countervailing checks. New regulations of online intermediaries should therefore incorporate checks on the use of automation to avoid exacerbating these dynamics. Carefully drawn transparency obligations, algorithmic accountability mechanisms, and procedural safeguards can help to ameliorate the effects of these regulations on users and competition.
Keywords: content moderation, free speech, privacy, surveillance, private platforms, internet platforms, internet intermediaries, private governance, European law, copyright, defamation, artificial intelligence, automation, algorithmic governance
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