Facebook Fiasco Is Exactly What US Internet Law Incents Protects & Produces

One gets what one rewards and tolerates.

U.S. Internet law and policy, which exempts and immunizes Internet platforms from most normal social responsibility and government accountability, has created a de facto anti-social contract with the American people; a cheaters charter for Internet platforms; and an increasingly corrosive culture of unaccountability.

Inputs drive outputs. Favoring unaccountability, favors irresponsibility.

This latest Facebook fiasco is just the latest in a long series of Internet-unaccountability wake-up calls for Congress.

The problem here is not tech, technology, the Internet, or a business model. They are mere tools that can be used for good or for bad.

The problem here is Congress predicated 1996 U.S. Internet law and policy on the implicit utopian ideal and naïve presumption that Internet technologies and businesses would only be forces for social good and not harm.

Why else would Congress sweepingly, permanently, and in advance, exempt Internet platforms from: all FCC regulation; most Federal and State regulation; and most civil responsibility via Section 230’s sweeping legal immunity from civil accountability?

Not thinking ahead to when Internet technology would be everywhere Americans live, work, and play, that 1996 Congress unwittingly created a policy trajectory that increasingly turns America’s implicit social contract upside-down!

Instead of individuals surrendering some of their freedoms to government in exchange for government protecting them and their remaining rights, U.S. Internet policy increasingly surrenders the U.S. government’s duty to ensure people’s rights and protect them from harms in the Internet context.

Instead of the civilized American social contract of freedom with responsibility in trade for freedom from Government tyranny, the Internet anti-social contract perversely became Wild West freedom from responsibility and freedom to tyrannize others.

Now we can consider how Internet platforms are doing exactly what the U.S. Government incents, rewards, and produces.

Why would only the Internet platforms below, maximally leverage this asymmetric accountability, behave in these irresponsible and unaccountable ways, and get away with it repeatedly for many years?

Facebook’s original corporate motto until 2014 was “move fast and break things” and they have. It has a  long history of letting developers and third parties access and exploit users most personal data without their meaningful consent. It designed its service purposefully to be addictive and manipulative. It profits most from polarizing fake news and fake ads. It admitted to manipulating elections. It also has shown it can be manipulated to promote, hate speech,  hate ads, political censorship, racial discrimination, psychographic profiling, and illegal discriminatory advertising. It has even live broadcasted murder, rape, and torture.

Google has serially and systematically abused section 230 to gain an asymmetric advantage in most aspects of its business by disregarding: victim harms, child safety, responsibility, authority, student privacy, data protection, antitrust enforcement, property, patents, accountability, ethics, sovereignty, national security, brand-unsafe ads, racist ads, censorship, etc.

Amazon is the master of mass-arbitrage of U.S. Internet policy’s asymmetric accountability. The essence of Amazon’s business strategy is to leverage its regulatory advantages online to gain anticompetitive regulatory advantages in the physical market for fulfillment and delivery, by arbitraging federal, state and local tax laws and real estate zoning, taxes, and subsidies. Amazon’s HQ2 contest is the quintessential example of how Amazon extracts maximal governmental advantage anticompetitively. Consider Amazon’s successful tax arbitrage spread -- since 2008, Amazon has paid $1.4b in taxes to Walmart’s $64b.   

Uber A Harvard Business Review analysis catalogues how Uber envisioned Section 230 as a blank check to wholesale ignore offline city taxi, vehicle, and safety laws to corner much of the ride hailing market.

Airbnb Wired documents how Airbnb  has used Section 230 immunity to mimic Uber’s unaccountable strategy and systematically violate city hospitality, safety, real estate, and zoning laws and regulations to gain uncatchable market share in the online accommodations market.

The Internet Association apparently exists to maintain and extend Internet platforms’ unbeatable government gifts of asymmetric accountability and needless netitlements. Its regulatory-arbitrage organizing principle appears to be: “No government for me, but Big Government for thee.”

Overall, U.S. Internet policy’s inverted incentives and culture of unaccountability has resulted in minimal government incentives, duties, or expectations to write secure computer code, or to make secure equipment, devices, software, or apps – to protect the American public and its property.

Now no computer, device, network, or entity in America is safe from hacking: NSA, CIA, DOD, DOJ, DHS, OPM, White House, Google, FacebookAmazon, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Equifax, et al have all been hacked; and hackers can hack planes in flight, vehicles on the road, and ships at sea. How upside-down is that?


American consumers feel neglected because they are.

U.S. Internet policy immunizes Internet platforms from accountability for negligence that harms consumers, and their privacy, data security, and personal safety. Consequently, over the last two decades, their Government’s Internet policy has directly resulted in Americans losing control over their privacy, data, identity, and personal security, which in turn makes them dramatically more vulnerable to fraud, manipulation, and danger, through little fault of their own.  

This bipartisan problem created when the Internet was in its infancy in 1996 is now ripe for a bipartisan solution now that the Internet has grown-up over the last two decades.

The recent remarkably strong 95% bipartisan consensus in the House and Senate for FOSTA, is powerful proof there is strong bipartisan potential to finally do what’s right for long-wronged American consumers.

The principles of equal accountability, and consumer privacy and security, are exceptionally bipartisan, because they are naturally exceptionally popular with consumers and voters. Anybody that doubts that should canvas voters or poll Americans and see for themselves.

Thus, Congress should pass bipartisan legislation that ensures: consumers’ privacy, data security and safety are protected regardless of technology; and all enterprises must follow the same rules to ensure consumers are equally protected online and offline.

Simply, same consumers, same rules.       





Scott Cleland served as Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy in the George H. W. Bush Administration. He is President of Precursor LLC, an internetization consultancy specializing in how the Internet affects competition, markets, the economy, and policy, for Fortune 500 companies, some of which are Internet platform competitors. He is also Chairman of NetCompetition, a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests. Cleland has testified seven times before the Senate and House Antitrust Subcommittees on antitrust matters. Overall, eight different congressional subcommittees have sought his expert testimony a total of sixteen times. He is also author of “Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc.”


Asymmetric Accountability Harms Series:


Part 1:   The Internet Association Proves Extreme U.S. Internet Market Concentration [6-15-17]


Part 2:   Why US Antitrust Non-Enforcement Produces Online Winner-Take-All Platforms [6-22-17]


Part 3:   Why Aren’t Google Amazon & Facebook’s Winner-Take-All Networks Neutral? [7-11-17]


Part 4:   How the Google-Facebook Ad Cartel Harms Advertisers, Publishers & Consumers [7-20-17]


Part 5:   Why Amazon and Google Are Two Peas from the Same Monopolist Pod [7-25-17]


Part 6:   Google-Facebook Ad Cartel’s Collusion Crushing Competition Comprehensively [8-1-17]


Part 7:   How the Internet Cartel Won the Internet and The Internet Competition Myth [8-9-17]


Part 8:   Debunking Edge Competition Myth Predicate in FCC Title II Broadband Order [8-21-17]


Part 9:   The Power of Facebook, Google & Amazon Is an Issue for Left & Right; BuzzFeed Op-Ed[9-7-17]


Part 10: Google Amazon & Facebook’s Section 230 Immunity Destructive Double Standard [9-18-17]


Part 11: Online-Offline Asymmetric Regulation Is Winner-Take-All Government Policy [9-22-17] 


Part 12: CDA Section 230’s Asymmetric Accountability Produces Predictable Problems [10-3-17]


Part 13: Asymmetric Absurdity in Communications Law & Regulation [10-12-17]  


Part 14: Google’s Government Influence Nixed Competition for Winner-Take All Results[10-25-17]


Part 15: Google Amazon & Facebook are Standard Monopoly Distribution Networks [11-10-17]


Part 16: Net Neutrality’s Masters of Misdirection[11-28-17]


Part 17: America’s Antitrust Enforcement Credibility Crisis – White Paper [12-12-17]


Part 18: The U.S. Internet Isn’t a Free Market or Competitive It’s Industrial Policy [1-4-18]


Part 19: Remedy for the Government-Sanctioned Monopolies: Google Facebook & Amazon [1-17-18]


Part 20: America Needs a Consumer-First Internet Policy, Not Tech-First[1-24-18]


Part 21: How U.S. Internet Policy Sabotages America’s National Security [2-9-18]


Part 22: Google’s Chrome Ad Blocker Shows Why the Ungoverned Shouldn’t Govern Others [2-21-18]


Part 23: The Beginning of the End of America’s Bad “No Rules” Internet Policy [3-2-18]


Part 24: Unregulated Google Facebook Amazon Want Their Competitors Utility Regulated [3-7-18]


Part 25: US Internet Policy’s Anticompetitive Asymmetric Accountability - DOJ Filing [3-13-18]


Part 26: Congress Learns Sect 230 Is Linchpin of Internet Platform Unaccountability [3-22-18]