Federal Rules of Platform Procedure
50 Pages Posted: 20 May 2020 Last revised: 22 Jul 2020
Date Written: April 15, 2020
Tech platforms serve as private courthouses for disputes about speech, lodging, commerce, elections, and reputation. After receiving allegations of defamatory content in top search results, Google must decide between protecting one person’s public image and another’s profits or speech. Amazon adjudicates disputes between consumers and third-party merchants about defective or counterfeit items. For many small businesses, layoffs and bankruptcy hang in the balance. This Article uncovers the processes that these platforms use to resolve disputes, and proposes reforms. Other powerful businesses that intermediate, such as credit card companies ruling on a disputed charge between a merchant and consumer, must by federal law provide timely notice, a reasonable investigation, and other procedural minimums. In contrast, platforms have almost unfettered discretion. Under intense public pressure, Facebook recently began building an independent oversight board that can overrule content moderation decisions. But whether other platforms will follow is unclear, and Facebook’s oversight board has significant limits. If platforms are to continue as the primary arbiters of disputes in the information age, they warrant mandated procedures as did financial institutions before them. The procedures would aim to improve the administration of justice through public accountability and separation of at least one of platforms’ executive, legislative, and judicial powers.
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