Regulating the internet—rise of the tech giants and new media channels

Regulating the internet—rise of the tech giants and new media channels

Should tech companies face stricter regulation and pay more tax? Yair Cohen, a partner at Cohen Davis Solicitors, discusses the pros and cons of self-regulation and considers whether the current taxation system is fair.

How has such tech company self-regulation worked in the past? Was it effective?

From the early days of the internet, tech companies had been regulated by a so-called private governance system which allowed them to create policies, police content if they wished to and to impose sanctions on whoever failed to play by their rules, whether users, content creators or advertisers.

To encourage internet companies to proactively self-govern their platforms responsibly and without fear of legal liability, in the US, Congress enacted section 230 of the Communications Decency Act 1996 which, among other things, allowed internet platforms to operate as the new governors of online speech. These new governors operate as private self-regulating autonomies within cyber space, but unlike a typical western democracy, their governance could be seen by some as totalitarian in nature, as the executive, legislative and judicial function of each organisation is entrusted to a small group of employees who are responsible for the entire governance framework at each organisation. These employees are not accountable to their ‘citizens’ (their users) because the nature of much of their self-regulatory work is still opaque.

Traditionally, tech companies viewed any form of regulation of the internet as damaging to free speech and, as a result, many failed to appropriately invest in policy creation or in the protection of their ‘citizens’ from harm. In its early years, for example, Twitter’s policy was to have no content moderation because it did not wish to place itself in a position where it was required to sensor users’ activities on its platform.

As the number of internet users has grown, so has the harm to which they have been exposed. The harm rapidly started to spill over to the offline or real world, which meant dealing with the causes and

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