Phil Kerpen, 5/19/2016 [Archive]

Facebook Scandal a Warning for the Future of the Internet

By Phil Kerpen

Many conservatives are waving off concerns about Facebook manipulating its Trending News feature because it's a private company. In addition to legal concerns related to the fact the feature was deceptively misrepresented, there is a bigger reason Facebook's conduct should set off alarm bells:the company has long advocated regulatory changes that could eventually make mandatory for the whole Internet the type of content manipulation that Facebook has been imposing on its own site.

During Obama's first term, Facebook was a member of the so-called Open Internet Coalition, which included among its members the neo-Marxist group Free Press.The founder of Free Press, Robert McChesney infamously praised Hugo Chavez and suggested that America should emulate his regime's oppressive media policies, saying: "Aggressive unqualified political dissent is alive and well in the Venezuelan mainstream media, in a manner few other democratic nations have ever known, including our own."

Quite a bedfellow for Facebook. And their key ally on the FCC, who voted for the so-called Open Internet Order, was another interesting fellow named Michael Copps.

Copps gave away what the regulatory push branded with the happy name "net neutrality" was really about when he said said: "Can you tell me that minority and women's voices on the Internet are getting through to major audiences—really being heard—like the big corporate sites? Should we just take it for granted that the small 'd' democratic potential of new information technologies will somehow be magically realized without questions being raised about how they are designed and managed?"

That sounds eerily similar to what Facebook got caught doing."Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter," a whistleblower told Gizmodo. "They realized it was a problem, and they boosted it in the ordering. They gave it preference over other topics. When we injected it, everyone started saying, 'Yeah, now I'm seeing it as number one'."

Although Facebook has denied that they inject stories, their own guidelines have detailed instructions for "how to inject a topic."It is a stonewall reminiscent of Lois Lerner (a name likely unfamiliar to people who rely on Facebook for news).

Which brings us back to the FCC, which also denies it would ever regulate Internet content — despite the Copps confession.Yet when the 2010 order was struck down as illegal, rather than go to Congress for a sensible compromise that Senator Thune has long had on offer, Facebook and its allies escalated their fight for FCC regulatory control of the Internet.

Their new lobbying group, the Internet Association, picked up where their old one left off and lobbied successfully for the FCC to adopt the nuclear option: reclassifying the Internet as an old-fashioned public utility under a Depression-era law.

Facebook even met with an FCC commissioner to echo their trade group's demand for regulation and stated in Orwellian terms: "Facebook has long supported a free and open Internet that is accessible to people around the world, and urged the FCC to adopt enforceable rules against paid prioritization or the creation of Internet fast lanes, so that the Internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce."

But why would an open platform require heavy-handed government regulation?Whose speech were they talking about?Would the Internet have to be "designed and managed" to promote "minority and women's voices," as their ally had explained a few years ago?

Now private broadband investment is plummeting.The FCC has voted to start replacing that private investment with government spending.The big tax hike to pay for that decision looms. One FCC commissioner helpfully explained: "One might reasonably suspect that this decision is conveniently being put off until after the November elections."

As private investment continues to decline under the weight of federal regulation it will be replaced by higher and higher taxes and spending.Then the Internet will likely be subject to public interest regulation, content controls, equal-space requirements, and worse as a condition of continued government funding.

In practice that means a heavy thumb on the scale for promoting politically correct liberal stories that are not actually popular but that elites think should be — just as the Fairness Doctrine once did on radio.And just as Facebook has been caught doing with Trending News.

When Facebook does it, people can vote with their clicks and head somewhere else.When the whole Internet is "designed and managed" in the same fashion there will be nowhere to go.And that's why it is imperative that if the courts don't overturn Obama's Internet regulations, the next president and Congress must.

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©Copyright 2016 Phil Kerpen, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Mr. Kerpen is the president of American Commitment and the author of "Democracy Denied." Kerpen can be reached at phil@americancommitment.org.

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