In the beginning of November, the executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter were hauled before Congress and asked embarrassing questions about fake accounts and spreading rumors on social media — and in general raked over the coals — for dispensing misinformation and distrust during the 2016 elections.
The fact that some of the ads were paid for in rubles sort of undercut the “Golly gosh, we didn’t know” stance they tried to project.
So what happened?
Much was made of bringing social media, especially the biggest players, under the same type of disclosure requirements that newspapers and TV stations have: the source of lines such as, “Paid for by Friends of Senator Bullbleep, Vladimir Notme, treasurer” or “I’m Ralph Rotten, and I approved this ad.”
One bill introduced, the “Honest Ads Act,” would require platforms with more than 50 million monthly views to create a public database of political ads purchased by a group or person that spent more than $500, including a description of the ad and the target audience, the number of views, when it ran and contact information of the purchaser.
Of course, much of the transparency wished for could be hidden by creating (always patriotic-sounding) “committees,” like “True Americans for Senator Bullbleep.” But, it’s a start.
Anyway, have you heard anything lately?
It has been referred to the United States Senate Committee of Rules and Administration, where it probably will be gutted, if not killed outright.
If that seems cynical, compare how much attention that issue has gotten since the public show in November. Nada. It has been lost in the latest saga of Grope-a-Rama and the finger-pointing there. The tech giants are happy to watch it fade, no doubt.
Let Insanity Reign
Did you do your Black Friday shopping early this year? Most of the big-box stores started their hyperfrenzy even earlier this year, with promotions starting in early November.
No doubt spurred on by fear that people would visit their competitors’ early sales, retailers moved the insanity back from Black Friday to Thanksgiving to “how about right now?” After all, how many flat screens do you need? If you get yours early somewhere else, the other retailers are out of luck. It’s sort of like the “save the date” cards arriving for a June wedding in February; stake it out before anyone else.
Nonetheless, this year’s Black Friday was projected to be the busiest online shopping day in history. So the early “deals days” held another purpose for retailers: testing out their websites to see if they could handle the traffic. They can lose millions of dollars if the site goes down for even a short time, so stress testing is useful.
I’ll be interested in seeing how Toys-R-Us does this season. It has already filed for bankruptcy but, at least as of September, company representatives said that this does not mean that it’s closing all its stores.
Some closures are certain to come, just as they did for Eddie Bauer after its bankruptcy; still, the company survived. The most affected companies will probably be toy manufacturers. Shortly after Toys-R-Us’s announcement, stock values for Mattel and Hasbro fell more than $800 million. Only Wal-Mart sells more of their products, so this was certainly a kick.
Will sales at Amazon make it up? If I were a supplier, I’d certainly be looking at cash up front.
It Never Ends
The FCC will vote, probably by the year’s end, on loosening the rules on net neutrality that keep suppliers from blocking or giving preferential treatment to some websites over others. Verizon, AT&T and Comcast have lobbied hard to gut the protections approved in 2015 and are about to get their wishes.
As a result, about 30 states have proposed their own laws, using consumer protection statutes, to countermand the FCC proposal. This should set up an interesting confrontation between federal and local authorities. The FCC has no power to preempt state consumer protection laws, even if it can regulate things involving communications at the federal level, which generally take precedence. This case will probably boil down to what is classified as consumer protection.
So, the song goes on forever. My money (if not my heart) is on the big guys, whose lobbyists will work forever diligently on this. As long as they’re paid.
In an effort to catch up with much of the 20th century (let alone the 21st), the Supreme Court has just allowed access to briefs and other case documents on its website. As chief Justice John Roberts has said, “The courts will often choose to be late to the harvest of American ingenuity.” Do tell.
Actual filings still will be required to be 40 copies on “opaque paper of not less than 60 pounds in weight.” Lawyers are also required to file electronically as well, although prisoners are exempt. It’s still hard to get decent Internet access behind bars, I suppose.
Cliff Feldwick is owner of Riverside Computing and offers PC troubleshooting, data retrieval and network setup services — when not casting a wary eye on anything Congressional. He can be reached at 410-880-0171 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Older columns are available online at http://feldwick.com.