Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. October 30, 2023.
Editorial: State’s suit against Meta bears watching
The filing last week of a massive federal lawsuit in which 33 state attorneys general accused Meta, the parent company for Facebook and Instagram, of “unfair or unconscionable acts and practices” could well be a turning point in how society uses social media.
That suit, which Wisconsin joined, isn’t the only one the company faces. Eight other states sued Meta in their courts, and Florida filed a separate federal case. All told, 42 out of the 50 states have launched court actions against the company in a coordinated legal assault.
The main suit contends the company’s “design choices and practices take advantage of and contribute to young users’ susceptibility to addiction.” Specifically, it says the company makes a “false promise” that social media will connect users to others in a meaningful way, but creates a sense that failure to immediately interact with posts, videos and photos will lead to social isolation. This perception, the states say, creates addiction.
Meta’s response was predictable. In a statement, the company said it shares the plaintiffs’ “commitment to providing teens with safe, positive experiences online, and have already introduced over 30 tools to support teens and their families. We’re disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path.”
Unfortunately for the company, that’s nonsense. The standards for content on Meta’s platforms are meaningless. Officially, the company prohibits hate speech. The reality is that it’s not difficult to find and numerous investigations have done just that.
It’s not a new problem, either. In 2021 Wired magazine challenged Facebook’s claim it removes more than 90 percent of the posts and ads that include hate speech. Internal documents provided by a whistleblower put the figure at 3-5 percent. The magazine said the company’s claim cites only items that are moderated, not overall content.
In 2017, ProPublica questioned Facebook’s handling of 49 posts it said “might be deemed offensive.” Those included calls for killing of people based on their religion and blatantly racist posts. Facebook officials said reviewers made the wrong call on allowing the posts to stay up on 22 of those. A company vice president said Facebook “must do better.”
Facebook isn’t the only social media company under the microscope. European regulators are taking a close look at X, formerly Twitter, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the company is being scrutinized by states in the same manner. Frankly, the bigger surprise would be if the company survives long enough to be sued.
There’s little question that Facebook has trouble regulating its content or enforcing standards consistently. We’re forced to question where the line is between intentionally creating addictive products and creating one people use in that manner. Further, what is a company’s responsibility if people abuse its product?
There are people who compulsively follow fantasy football, allowing it to consume their attention to a far greater degree than what most would think is healthy. Should the hobby be compelled to be less enjoyable to avoid that? Binge watching television shows is arguably addictive behavior. Should streaming companies be forced to set a cap on the number of episodes you can watch in a day?
Where we see risk for Meta is that the suit alleges deception. If the company knew there was a problem and hid evidence of that problem, we see that as far more actionable than tweaking platforms to keep people coming back.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It’s also worth remembering that, as deeply integrated as social media is in our lives, it’s still fairly new. Facebook dates only to 2004. MySpace, it’s predecessor as the dominant platform, is only one year older.
This remains very new legal ground.
Wisconsin State Journal. October 30, 2023.
Editorial: 4½ bills show cooperation isn’t dead
4½ bills show cooperation isn’t dead
Set aside your skepticism, folks, and belly up to a little bipartisanship.
Here are 4½ bills (we’ll get to that other half in a bit) with broad support in the Legislature. All of them deserve swift passage before lawmakers adjourn in the spring:
Forty-seven Republicans and 22 Democrats in the Assembly approved $545 million this month to renovate American Family Field. The money — $411 million from the state, $135 million from Milwaukee and $100 million from the team — would keep the Brewers in Milwaukee through 2050.
Now that’s teamwork.
The cost to taxpayers is substantial but worth it. That’s because losing the Brewers wouldn’t just sadden sports fans across the state. It would be a blow to the economy and state coffers.
Wisconsin is expected to collect — from state income taxes alone — $630 million from Major League Baseball-related personnel if the team stays in Wisconsin through 2050, according to the nonpartisan Legislature Fiscal Bureau. That more than offsets any taxpayer expense.
Moreover, the sponsors of AB 438 (and its companion legislation, AB 439) are floating a ticket tax on non-baseball events at the stadium. That could sweeten the deal for any holdouts.
Even if you don’t watch America’s pastime, you should root for passage. The Brewers produce more than tax dollars. They pull people together for camaraderie and fun. They’re an essential part of Wisconsin’s identity.
• SB 205
A key committee voted 5-0 last month for this modest yet meaningful attempt to address gun deaths. The bill would train staff at firearm retailers and ranges to recognize when someone might be contemplating suicide. Grants also would help pay for literature at gun shops and precautionary, voluntary firearm storage.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and key Republicans such as Sen. Jesse James of Altoona and Shae Sortwell of Two Rivers are supportive. So are an increasing number of Democrats from the Madison area.
Chronic gun violence requires a much bigger response from state leaders, including universal background checks and strict limits on weapons of war. Yet with so much agreement on SB 205, state leaders should get this done now. It can save lives and maybe even prevent a mass shooting if a troubled person gets help.
• SB 122
Wisconsin is one of only four states without tax-free savings accounts for people with disabilities, which this bill would fix. Known as ABLE accounts, which stands for “achieving a better life experience,” these saving plans let individuals and families put money aside for disability-related expenses such as education, housing and transportation — without jeopardizing Medicaid benefits or Supplemental Security Income.
Though parents and others who support disabled individuals with ABLE accounts can create them in other states, many do not because they are wary of far-flung complications. Questions about income for people with disabilities also can dissuade some from working.
The Senate approved SB 122 with a 30-3 vote in June, and it cleared a key Assembly committee Oct. 19 with unanimous support. Nothing should stop this sensible proposal from getting to the governor’s desk.
This anti-secrecy bill would deter government officials from needlessly delaying the release of public records. Because of a misguided court ruling last year, public records custodians now have a strong and disturbing incentive to ignore requests for government documents until they face legal action. That’s because they no longer face the possibility of having to pay for the requester’s legal fees if they release the records before a judge can hear the case.
SB 117 restores the right to recover legal fees if a public records lawsuit is a “substantial factor” in shaking the documents loose. SB 117 earned unanimous support from a key committee before clearing the full Senate in April. Now it’s the Assembly’s turn to act, with Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, as a key advocate.
• AB 567
This Republican proposal would let local election clerks process absentee ballots on the Mondays before elections. That way, cities such as Milwaukee won’t have to wait until the wee hours of the night to finish counting their results. Avoiding a late-night ballot drop will help build trust in Wisconsin’s election process.
Though this bill doesn’t have Democratic sponsors yet, it easily will if its GOP sponsors cut it in half. They should narrow their proposal to just the timing of processing ballots. Other provisions, such as new reporting requirements for clerks, are divisive and threaten to stall this crucial efficiency.