One of the features of every societal crisis is that the elites of the society stop enforcing the rules of society, especially on themselves. Prior to the collapse of the Roman Republic, the elites started making exceptions to the rules. In the short term they seemed practical, but in the long term these exceptions undermined the moral logic of the rules entirely. Before long, a man in Gaul could decide that the rules no longer applied and he was free to do as he pleased.
This is at the core of the current crisis in the American empire. The rules have become arbitrary with regards to the elite. In turn the elites no longer enforce basic principles that are the foundation of the country. One of the principles is property. It used to be understood that you own the produce of your labor. That was the default and infringement on your ownership had to clear a high bar. Today, the powerful can steal your property without consequence.
This collapse of property rights is at the core of this story out of Florida about a law banning theft of private images. A local politician says nude photos of her were stolen and distributed on-line without her consent. She is leading the charge to change the law regarding ownership of your image. She is also doing the rounds to draw attention to herself, but also raise awareness of the issue. She thinks there should be federal law to protect ownership of your image.
In truth, it used to be understood that you own you and therefore you own whatever you produce, including your image. Forty years ago, a television show maker would have to get a signed release to use footage of you walking down a city street. They did not have to pay you, but you did not have to grant them permission. Today, your image can be freely distributed on-line and you have no recourse. Similarly, your activity on-line can be used by others and you can do nothing about it.
Reasserting property rights to include things like your image, your internet activity, your resume and other non-tangible products of your labor would go a long way to restoring order to society. One reason for that is it would torpedo the business model of the tech monopolies, who rely on your free labor to make a profit. What Facebook calls ad revenue is actually the sale of user activity and content. They sell this data in bulk to marketers, government and corporate interests.
If Facebook had to get a signed release from you every time they sell your data their business model would collapse in a month. Their margins would collapse even if their user were okay with being exploited this way, because the cost of this model would be shifted back onto their balance sheet. The same is true of the other big socials. All of them would have to rethink their business model. This would most likely take place in bankruptcy court as there is no easy answer for them.
Of course, for this to work it would require the return of the old model for enforcing contracts, especially contracts of adhesion or one-way contracts. That is what the terms of service is called in the law. It is a take it leave it offer. These sorts of contracts used to come under careful scrutiny by the courts. The reason is they saw a powerful interest issuing terms to weak interests, so the way to level the playing field was the court would act on behalf of the weak interest.
The reason that the back of car rental contracts all look the same is they went through the legal process over many years. That standard language has been approved by the courts and will therefore be enforced by the courts. That means the car rental firm does not willy-nilly change the language during your rental. The same process has been applied to residential leases and utility contracts. The same legal standards should be applied to terms of service agreements.
A world where the big social media players have to get permission to alter their terms of service and those terms have to be legally clear and concise, is a world where they cannot abuse their authority. They go back to being passive service providers, rather than arbiters of truth. In a world where they have to respect your property rights, they revert back to a traditional business that offers a service in exchange for a fee, rather than a monopoly with socialized costs.
Of course, to return to a rule-based world requires Congress and the courts to rediscover the rule of law and the advantages of an orderly society. That would require them to suddenly get the courage and morality to turn down the massive bribes that flow into Washington from the tech firms. The great lesson Silicon Valley learned during the Microsoft antitrust case is that everyone in Washington comes with a price tag and there is always a sale going on in Washington.
An old adage about money is that if you need hard money to control your corrupt elites, your corrupt elites will find a way around hard money. This axiom of history applies to the law as well. if you need to codify the basics of a civilized society in order to control your elites, those elites will get around the laws of civilized society. That is the fundamental problem in America. Unless and until the elites are replaced with and by a moral people, the chaos will continue until collapse.
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