Good News: Americans Don’t Think Social Media Platforms Should Be Regulated

A new WSJ/NBC poll found that Americans don’t support greater regulation of tech.

There is some encouraging news on the tech front: fewer Americans believe government regulation of social media platforms should be implemented. This comes after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress last week.

A new WSJ/NBC poll released on April 16th found that Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the federal government placing regulations on social media giants in wake of the Cambridge-Analytica data revelations. This survey found that 37% of respondents believe Facebook and Twitter aren’t sufficiently regulated, 37% of respondents polled believe they have enough regulations placed on them, and 14% of respondents polled said the two listed platforms were too over-regulated.

The Wall Street Journal

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Americans have only a limited appetite for new government oversight of social media companies, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds https://on.wsj.com/2H59aJQ 

No Overwhelming Support for More Online Regulation, Poll Finds

Congress has held high-profile hearings on Facebook and is debating new regulation of social media companies, but a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds that Americans have only a limited appetite…

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Last week, Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Ben Sasse (R-NE) rightly probed Zuckerberg about inherent political bias and asked for clarity if pro-life speech would be deemed “hate speech” on his platform, respectively. During his exchange with Senator Cruz, Zuckerberg even admitted Silicon Valley is an “extremely left-leaning place” and that he was “concerned” about a disproportionate amount of political bias against right-leaning individuals who use his platform.

Despite growing skepticism about government regulation of platforms like Facebook, many have called for Facebook to to be regulated in wake of the 2016 election. As I wrote here at The Resurgent last December, one NYU professor argued Facebook was manipulated by the Trump campaign to win the presidency. Regulation of such platforms with respect to suppressing certain kinds of speech — even conservative speech — would lead to serious First Amendment issues. Instead, some tech experts believe these platforms should self-regulate:

Instead, social media networks could develop and implement algorithms for identifying and removing fake news by marshaling the same engines that spread fake news in the first place. These algorithms would not be administered by the government; rather, Facebook and other social media would be responsible…Such self-regulation is in the best interest of these media companies. It would increase the confidence of their users in what they encounter online. It would also have the added benefit of keeping government regulators at bay…In the end, the ultimate antidote to fake news and bots is the rationality of the human mind.

Lincoln Network—a center-right coalition of tech professionals—has offered alternatives to governmental regulation for Silicon Valley to dig itself out of the very hole it created. Here are the recommendations from their recent white paper Viewpoint Diversity In Tech: Reality Or Myth?” they offered:

  • Include viewpoint diversity questions in company-led employee surveys and release the findings publicly during self-reporting of other diversity data.
  • Encourage the development of employee resource groups through which employees can share and discuss diverse political and religious viewpoints.
  • If diversity training is offered or required at any level, ensure viewpoint diversity is adequately covered in the curriculum. Include examples of bias on the basis of ideology and religion.
  • Create best practices on viewpoint diversity and make them publicly available to any small tech startup or company in any industry.
  • Create accountability metrics for senior executives and diversity and inclusion officers to measure progress in improving viewpoint diversity.
  • Ensure that speakers with diverse ideological viewpoints are welcomed by the company and at industry conferences.
  • Invest resources to experiment with how existing products and technical teams can help scale innovative approaches to increasing empathy and tolerance in the workplace, such as Deliberative Democracy and Heterodox Academy.
  • Create six-month or one-year deployments for non-technical and technical managers to live in non-tech hubs around the country to engage with employees that have a wide range of ideological and religious views.
  • Increase budget allocations for user research for product development in non-tech hubs and non-coastal cities.
  • Convene public events in tech hubs and other cities across the country that provide forums for civil, fact-based discussions about important issues leading into the 2018 and 2020 election cycles.

Anytime the government desires to involve itself in the private sector, the results are less than desirable. The calls for regulating social media are careless, lazy, and dangerous.

It’s encouraging to see public opinion trend in the limited government column in this instance. Social media certainly has its issues, but further regulations will further compound them rather than ameliorate them.

Papa John’s Cites NFL Protests for Sluggish Pizza Sales

Papa John’s, the official pizza company affiliated with the NFL, is not too keen on the football players protesting the national anthem, suggesting these very action are hurting company sales.

“The NFL has hurt us,” company founder and CEO John Schnatter said. “We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this.”

https://twitter.com/i/moments/925791849230475264

“Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership,” Schnatter added.

Papa John’s stock is reportedly down 8.5 percent as of yesterday.  The company not only has a deal with the NFL, but 23 different teams comprising the league.

Schnatter, who is reportedly a Republican, has been in the news before. In 2012, he said escalating healthcare costs under Obamacare will contribute to the rise of pizza prizes. He also took flak for his defense of buying himself a 24,000-square-foot home.

Earlier this year, he published a book called Papa: The Story of Papa John’s Pizza in which he slammed regulation and compared the U.S. in 2016 to 19th century Germany.

“America in 2016 is on the path to becoming what Germany was in 1867,” Schnatter wrote in his new book, per Business Insider.

“If you believed the wrong thing, the government attacked you. If you became successful, the government took your money,” he said. “And if you dared go against the whims and will of society’s rulers, the government beheaded you.”

“You’ve got to have free markets with limited government, with the proper amount of regulation where you don’t jam entrepreneurship,” Schnatter continued.

It’ll be interesting to see how the company will be affected by this in the long-term.

GOP Sets Its Sights On Regulatory Reform With A Slew Of Bills

Regulatory reform was an important rallying cry for Republicans in 2016. Then-candidate Donald Trump promised to cut 75 percent of federal regulations, and now the GOP is starting to work on helping the president keep his promises to lessen the regulatory burden on Americans with a series of pieces of legislation.

One of the top priorities on this wish list of bills is the Regulatory Accountability Act, which looks to eliminate costly regulations. The way this bill works is that all regulations would be subject to cost-benefit analysis, which would determine whether authorities should choose a “reasonable alternative” to the regulation. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) plans on introducing the measure after the Easter recess. A House version passed in January.

Supporters of the Regulatory Accountability Act say it would keep federal agencies on a tight leash and prevent the sort of regulatory overreach that Republicans complained about during the Obama administration.

But critics say it would lead to toothless regulations.

Even left-leaning critics of the bill say that it’s the one most likely to attract bipartisan support.

Another bill, the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act, requires agencies to take into account the impact a regulation has on small businesses. The idea, of course, is to limit red tape and rethink regulations that put too much of a burden on small businesses. A House version of this one passed earlier in the year, but the GOP will need to pull a few Democrats into the fold to prevent a filibuster.

The Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome (SCRUB) Act seeks to eliminate up to 15 percent of regulations by cutting duplicate and redundant regulations. It too passed the House in January but may have an uphill battle in the Senate.

One of the most daring bills on the table is the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act. This measure requires federal agencies to consult Congress before enacting major regulations.

Critics say it would allow Republicans to kill regulations much more easily, even if they just control one branch of Congress.

Currently, Republicans have the Congressional Review Act, which lets Congress strike down some regulations on the books. But it’s only effective when the same party controls both chambers and the White House.

As its name implies, the All Economic Regulations are Transparent Act (ALERT) Act seeks to bring more transparency to the regulatory process by requiring agencies to send reports to Congress, which would then be make public for six months before the regulations can go into effect, while another optional measure, the Early Participation in Regulations Act, would allow more options for public comment on potential regulations.

Like the other bills, the REINS and ALERT Acts have already passed the House but likely face a tougher fight in the Senate, while the Early Participation in Regulations Act may have some bipartisan support.

It’ll be interesting to see if these new bills have any chance of becoming law and what effect they’ll have on the regulatory state. Here’s hoping the GOP can make a dent in the burden with these measures.

Donald Trump Jr. Helping Lead Charge to Deregulate Gun Silencers

The eldest son of President-elect Donald Trump is partnering with SilencerCo to help deregulate gun silencers nationally.

Although legal in 42 states, silencers are heavily regulated by the federal government and incur a hefty fees for those who purchase them.  Both Trump Jr. and the Utah-based company agree that deregulating silencers is a public health issue.

“It’s about safety,” Trump Jr. explained in a video interview  SilencerCo. “It’s a health issue, frankly.” Below is the video interview:

For those unfamiliar with silencers and their purpose, they help reduce the impact of hearing loss and noise pollution while using firearms. They were first patented on March 30, 1909 by Hiram Percy Maxim of then-Maxim Silent Firearms Company. Silencers are also known as suppressors.

Given momentum from November, there’s a renewed interest to pursue the decriminalization of silencers at the federal level.

Last Congressional term, the Hearing Protection Act was introduced but failed to garner any traction. The Hearing Protection Act was designed to ease restrictions currently placed on silencers. Had the bill passed, it would have amended the Internal Revenue Code to eliminate the $200 transfer tax on firearms silencers. Moreover, this proposed legislation would “treat any person who acquires or possesses a firearm silencer as meeting any registration or licensing requirements of the National Firearms Act with respect to such silencer” as well. Those paying taxes on silencer purchases after October 22, 2015, (assuming the bill became law) would have received a refund on the tax. The bill was sponsored by former Congressman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) and 82 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.

 

 

Not surprisingly, gun control advocates have responded to this move negatively suggesting criminals and potential mass shooters will carry out their attacks in an easier manner if silencers are deregulated. Typical. Perhaps if they studied mechanics and actually learned how to operate firearms, they wouldn’t launch defamation campaigns against the firearms industry.

I personally haven’t used silencers yet while handling firearms, but experts have told me how useful and helpful they are to make the shooting experience more enjoyable. Let’s hope a bill passes this term to ease the restrictions currently placed on silencers!

 

 

 

 

Only a Band-Aid Stops IRS from Stifling 501(c)4 Free Speech

In late 2013 the Internal Revenue Service, already under criticism for a scandal that involved targeting conservative non-profit groups, proposed changing the rules that govern so-called 501(c)4 organizations – named after the portion of the tax code that authorizes their existence. Unlike many non-profits which fund themselves with tax deductible contributions, 501(c)4 groups can’t offer a tax benefit to donors, but they are allowed to keep the identity of their donors secret and they are allowed to speak out more explicitly than other non-profits when it comes to some public policy matters.

That freedom to speak more openly and specifically about public policy troubled the IRS. Under proposed rule 134417-13, the IRS seeks to narrowly constrain non-profit organizations incorporated as 501(c)4s by muzzling them when it came to public policy issues. “The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect candidate-related political activity,” the proposed rule reads in part.

Already non-profits cannot tell people to “vote for” or support or donate to candidates, whether by name or by reference. But 501(c)4 groups can focus on issues, and can urge the public to contact candidates for office or officeholders about a policy issue. It is that kind of work that 134417-13 would put an end to. Additionally, the rule would specifically prohibit non-profit groups from conducting non-partisan voter registration drives.

“[F]or well over half a century, the IRS’s regulations have recognized that §501(c)(4) organizations can lawfully and appropriately engage in substantial levels of political activity—as long as it is less than 50 percent of the organization’s activities,” wrote Hans von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commission and U.S. Department of Justice official who now conducts research at the Heritage Foundation, of the proposed rule.

After being inundated with mostly negative feedback about the proposal, the IRS in 2014 delayed implementation of the rule. But that wasn’t enough for Congress. In the year-end spending bill passed in December 2015, Congress prohibited the IRS from fully adopting or implementing 134417-13, but only until September 30, 2016.

Section 127 of Division E of HR 2029 declares:

“[N]one of the funds made available in this or any other Act may be used by the Department of the Treasury, including the Internal Revenue Service, to issue, revise, or finalize any regulation, revenue ruling, or other guidance not limited to a particular taxpayer relating to the standard which is used to determine whether an organization is operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare for purposes of section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986”.

But that free speech protect expires at the end of September.

The House has passed HR 5485, which extends the same language for another year – until the end of September 2017. But that legislation has not yet cleared the Senate according Congress.gov, the official legislative website of Congress.

Just why Republicans – who control Congress – included an expiration date on their efforts to stop the IRS from muzzling the free speech rights of some non-profit groups is not clear. Certainly as long as the GOP has comfortable majorities in both chambers, the language should be able to get into annual appropriations bills without any problem. But a more permanent fix to the problem would be to clarify that “social welfare” as it appears in the tax code, does not exclude speech or activities related to government activity, public policy, or policy and political debates.

Organizations that stand to lose the most from the IRS’s imposition of this restriction range from Heritage Action for America, which operates as a 501(c)4, to Americans for Prosperity, which has local chapters across the country that advocate for free market principles in state and federal policy.

Until Congress permanently clarifies the meaning of “social welfare” – which von Spakovsky argues should include policy debates and general election participation in a republican democracy – a band-aid fix is all that prevents the IRS from slapping a free speech muzzle on some non-profit organizations.