'No incentive' for tech companies to police content, expert says

(NewsNation) — Before she was charged with child abuse, YouTube vlogger Ruby Franke had come under scrutiny for her strict parenting techniques that some viewers said constituted abuse.

So, why wasn’t anything done about the content?

Eric Weinberg, vice president of content moderation at Coalition for a Safer Web, says companies have “no incentive” to take action on potentially problematic content because of Section 230, which provides immunity to online platforms from civil liability based on third-party content.

“They could have committed murder in these videos, which has happened before, and YouTube would not be liable for the content,” Weinberg said Friday on “Elizabeth Vargas Reports.”

Franke has been arrested and charged with child abuse after her 12-year-old son escaped the home of Franke’s business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, and sought help from a neighbor. He had duct tape on his ankles and abrasions from what appeared to be other bindings.

Another of Franke’s children was found in Hildebrandt’s home in what police said was a malnourished state.

Franke and Hildebrandt appeared in court Friday and were ordered held without bail.

Prior to her arrest, Franke’s parenting style was criticized by those who said it constituted abuse. Some incidents documented on Franke’s YouTube channel, “8 Passengers,” included teenage son Chad being made to sleep on a bean bag for months as punishment and refusing to bring her 6-year-old daughter lunch at school because the daughter forgot to pack it.

The channel was removed from YouTube earlier this year.

Clinical psychologist Jeff Gardere said it’s clear the family situation should have been investigated.

“This should have been taken care of. We should always listen to our children, we should never doubt what they have to say, and if nothing else, at least explore or investigate right away,” he said. “So this, to me, seems to be like something that really fell through the cracks in a major, major way.”

Despite concerns over Franke’s parenting style, the YouTube channel was highly popular. At one point, it had about 2.5 million subscribers, Page Six reported.

“It’s where we are as a society. This is the next generation of what started with reality TV, at least in some form of reality TV on cable,” Weinberg said of the channel’s audience. “People like looking at this roadkill.”

Gardere characterized it as a “cult of personality” where viewers side with a host or creator because it’s entertaining.

“Somehow, our dopamine levels are released, increased, when we see this sort of kookiness going on, because it’s something that gives us some fun, but these are real lives and we’re dealing with children and … we need to be careful of that cult of personality,” he said.

Weinberg called on Congress to take action on the matter, specifically through the Kids Online Safety Act. Co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Martha Blackburn, R-Tenn., it would require social media companies to create more safeguards for minors.

“I’m sure this fits somewhere” in the legislation, he said.

NewsNation digital producer Stephanie Whiteside contributed to this report.


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