The Sneaky Way Big Tech Abuses Children
The (in)famous Section 230 does not only protect social media platforms. Its subsection 230(d) establishes a requirement that the provider of an interactive computer service notify the customer that "parental control protections (such as computer hardware, software, or filtering services) are commercially available" and must "provide the customer with access to information identifying current providers of such protections" at the time of entering the agreement with the customer.
It is easy to comply with subsection 230(d); most websites did that for the first ten or fifteen years. There were many parental control software packages (such as NetNanny, Webroot, Norton Family, etc.), and websites carried notices pointing to these software packages. In addition, some ISPs provided network-level filtering. These programs and services allowed parents to protect their children from porn and other content they considered harmful or unsuitable to their religious beliefs or family values.
Big social media platforms elected not to comply with this requirement. Even worse, they have interfered with the ability of third parties to make commercially available parental controls to the point where it is almost impossible. As the use of social media is practically unavoidable, parents cannot supervise their children's activities online.
Social media platforms used by children most are Google, YouTube, TikTok (domiciled in China), Facebook/Instagram (Facebook owns Instagram), and Snapchat.
Historically Unprecedented Situation
Adolescents (13–18) spend more than six hours daily on social media on average. This number is just below four hours for children (8–12). Eighty-five percent of children under 13 in the U.S. are watching YouTube. YouTube is the most popular app among children and adolescents, and TikTok is number two.
Today, it is impossible for ordinary parents to supervise what their children do on the internet and social media. More accurately, parents do not even know what social media corporations and strangers using them worldwide do to their children.
A child as young as ten can be targeted by anybody in the world via social media, with any purpose and with no risk for the perpetrator, while the parents are in the dark and law enforcement looks the other way. Never in human history has any society experienced such a situation. Yet, surprisingly, almost no attention has been paid to the violation of subsection 230(d) by Big Tech in the last ten years.
Big Tech ignores and defeats 230(d)
In 2010, the FCC passed the Obamanet/Net Neutrality/net neutering regulations. It was the beginning of the end of the free internet and the rise of monopolistic Big Tech. Among other necessities, Obamanet banned network filtering services provided by ISPs.
Big Tech violates subsection 230(d) by ignoring and defeating it. First, Big Tech platforms do not provide any notice of commercially available parental control software, hardware, or services. Worse, these platforms operate as closed systems and actively prevent the development of commercially available parental controls.
"Commercially available" is not company-provided
Even if a large social media platform offers adequate parental controls within its system, that does not satisfy subsection 230(d), which requires a notification to customers regarding the commercially available parental controls. "Commercially available" refers to something from third parties, usually for a fee. The decision of what material suits minors for online engagement belongs to the family, not the service providers or even lawmakers. The popular parental controls existing in the 2000s contained predefined and easy-to-use settings and allowed for individual customization. Furthermore, third parties specializing in parental controls and providing them for a fee can ensure higher-quality controls and cater to personal religious preferences and situations.
This said, the parental controls currently offered by Big Tech are typically ineffective and deceitful. They do not allow parents to specify the content suitable for their children, can be easily bypassed by the children, and reflect Big Tech's hostility toward family values. In addition, big social media platforms actively market their services to children, including children below 13, sidelining parents.
This situation is further aggravated by Obamanet remaining in effect despite being reversed by the FCC. Democrat-controlled legislatures imposed it on the state level. Large cable ISPs are on the Democrat side everywhere. Smaller ISPs in other states are forced to comply because of the Democrats' threat to restore it on the federal level.
Big Tech's failure to comply with subsection 230(d) is intentional. Google and Facebook want their consumers to have minimum control over the content they and their children see. Big Tech wants to market its services to children by displaying content that parents may disapprove of. Big Tech also wants to justify its censorship of political, medical, and scientific content by pretending it needs censorship rights to protect children. Essentially, it uses children as pawns.
Heavy use of social media has been shown to cause "usual" mental illnesses in children and adolescents, such as depression and anxiety. Today, Big Tech companies intentionally inflict gender dysphoria (the "transgender" condition) on children. Gender dysphoria is a mental disorder (code 302.85 in DSM-5; formerly known as gender identity disorder). The frequency of this diagnosis has increased nearly three times from 2017 to 2021.
Subsection 230(d) is an independent requirement with which interactive computer services must comply, at least if they market to minors and allow potentially harmful material. Parents can sue Big Tech for its violation. Private citizens can possibly sue the government for accounts on unsafe and non-compliant Big Tech platforms. The failure to comply with subsection 230(d) might strip the perceived immunity granted to the platforms by subsection 230(c).
Nevertheless, it is hard to find cases where social media platforms were sued under subsection 230(d). The only one I could find is Doe v. Snapchat, Inc., No. 16-04955 (C.D. Cal., 2016), which was apparently quickly settled.
The platforms actively refuse to collaborate with parents on parental controls, sometimes citing privacy concerns. For instance, a child died from illegal drugs that were purchased through Snapchat. The child's parents took on a mission to convince the platforms to help to protect children. Some platforms, including Facebook's Instagram, refused even to talk. The platforms attempt to bind kids with their illegal terms of service. None of the Big Tech platforms even thinks about opening itself to third-party applications for parents.
Big Tech has crossed all the lines. Somebody must hold it accountable in the court of law before it is too late.
Image via Peakpx.