Twitter Proposes Guiding Principles for Online Regulation

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(Image credit: Sean Gladwell/Getty Images)

Reading the regulatory handwriting on the wall, and on proposed legislation to crack down on Big Tech, Twitter has offered up its “guiding principles” for preserving an open internet, which include not targeting only the biggest players, like Twitter, and a call for algorithmic transparency, something Congress has called for in the wake of Facebook whistleblower revelations.

In a position paper tweeted out by the company in what it said was an effort to inform the current debate, Twitter painted a rather dystopian overregulatory vision of Big Government taking over Big Tech.

“The risk that the rhetoric of policy and language of law will be co-opted and weaponized by those seeking to usher in an age of techno-nationalism is real,“ it said in the preamble to its five major policy points, which it published online as Protecting the Open Internet: Regulatory Principles for Policymakers.

In the past, the open internet language coming from Silicon Valley focused on internet service providers, while those ISPs argued that Open Internet reguations were from a bygone era. Twitter was still looking for government to advance open internet rules, including rules to prevent blocking or throttling by ISPs, it took the same tack as ISPs when it came to any proposed edge provider regs.

"Regulatory approaches to new industries are often shaped by the policy responses designed in the aftermath of the industrial revolution, oriented towards frameworks that specify standards for outcomes of mechanical processes. This approach struggles to adapt to the unpredictable and rapidly evolving nature of human use of technology and expression," Twitter said.

The Twitter principles are:

1. ‘The Open Internet is global, should be available to all, and should be built on open standards and the protection of human rights.“

2. “Trust is essential and can be built with transparency, procedural fairness, and privacy protections.“

3. “Recommendation and ranking algorithms should 3 be subject to human choice and control.“

4. “Competition, choice, and innovation are foundations of the Open Internet and should be protected and expanded, ensuring incumbents are not entrenched by laws and regulations.”

5. “Content moderation is more than just leave up or take down. Regulation should allow for a range of interventions, while setting clear definitions for categories of content.”

On guideline number two, Twitter said that transparency should apply to government as well as Big Tech.

‘There’s a deficit in trust in many online services and government functions alike,” Twitter said. “It’s essential every sector works to rebuild trust, beginning with greater transparency.” 

It said the public should understand not only “the rules of online services,” but also “the way that governmental legal powers are used.”

ISPs have frequently called for regulatory clarity on which to base their business decisions.

Calling for regulatory fairness, Twitter said:

“Regulation by proxy, where governments use broad standards to push the burden of defining types of content onto service providers to avoid having to do so in legislation, is a dangerous trend, particularly when set alongside seemingly contradictory obligations to protect certain types of content. This is fundamentally a constitutional issue as much as a trust issue. Both individuals and companies need notice of what is prohibited by law so that they can act accordingly.”

One big problem for Big Tech when it comes to the bipartisan pushback on social media is that Democrats and Republicans don‘t agree on what speech qualifies as problematic and should be subject to heightened scrutiny by edge providers, so that a government standard could change with the change in political fortunes and majorities.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.