Europe has enacted tough policies to curb the behavior of companies like Facebook and Google and passed laws to deal with privacy, hate speech and disinformation. China has largely cordoned itself off from the rest of the internet, allowing Beijing to censor political content and bolster Chinese tech companies like Alibaba and Tencent. In India, Indonesia, Russia and Vietnam, governments are introducing regulations to ostensibly protect their citizens’ privacy and build domestic internet industries that critics say will stymie the ability of American companies to provide services in those countries. The United States wants its more permissive rules to form the basis for worldwide regulation. But there is a rising debate about whether its regime of internet regulations has failed to protect consumer privacy, encouraged the spread of disinformation and supported a powerful forum for harassment and bullying.
The American rules, codified in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, shield online platforms from many lawsuits related to user content and protect them from legal challenges stemming from how they moderate content. Those rules are largely credited with fueling Silicon Valley’s rapid growth. The language in the trade deals echoes those provisions but contains some differences. That freedom has come under intense criticism from lawmakers and advocates. They say the 23-year-old law has allowed companies like Facebook and Google to avoid responsibility for harm associated with content that reaches billions of users. That anger has been compounded by revelations about the role of Silicon Valley’s business practices in the spread of disinformation and treatment of user data.