11:30 am - 1:00 pm
[The] Breakup Speech: Can Antitrust Fix the Relationship between Platforms and Free Speech Values?
Neil Chilson and Casey Mattox
Chilson and Mattox argue that if private platform power over the speech environment is a problem, antitrust is the wrong solution. Competition can promote the free speech preferences of consumers. But current free speech concerns are not caused by a lack of competition —so increasing the number of competitors will not help. In fact, unleashing antitrust regulators to pursue non-competition related goals would threaten free speech values. Removing important constraints on the powerful tools of antitrust—tools with a history of abusive and arbitrary use—would weaken antitrust’s ability to protect the competitive process while amplifying the tools governments and others could use to interfere with private speech.
The Rise of Content Cartels
Douek begins from the position that increased competition in the tech sector will not resolve many of our speech-related concerns, and that in some cases, collaboration between platforms will be both necessary and beneficial. She then traces the emergence of what she calls “content cartels.” In these cartels, a few powerful players—mainly large digital platforms working with representatives of various governments—work together to set parameters for acceptable content across the industry in a growing number of areas. While cartel action to detect and remove (or preempt) illegal content like child pornography can be successful, Douek shows how platforms are increasingly under pressure to collaborate in ad hoc, secretive ways in response to particular crises, and why we must work urgently to create structures and safeguards for such collaborations that allow for transparency and accountability to the public.
Information Fidelity and Digital Flows
Goodman looks at the loss of “information fidelity” on digital information platforms—defined as a signal to noise ratio of information that supports democratic discourse and cabins cognitive manipulation. She examines efforts to use transparency regulations imported from the analog world as a way to restore information fidelity and finds them useful, but insufficient. Platforms produce “algorithmic noise” by collecting personal data, microtargeting messages, and amplifying information in ways that bypass and undermine cognitive autonomy, overwhelming traditional transparency measures. The adaptation of TV and radio advertising disclosure laws to the online sphere will be insufficient to protect informational fidelity in the face of algorithmic ordering and behavioral nudges that produce salience throughout the system. She argues for more systemic transparency requirements that expose how meaning is made and how noise is produced, as well as innovations to increase “signal” and to strategically introduce friction into the production and sharing of speech online, including the creation of “speed bumps” to interrupt the flow of disinformation.