As Congress grilled some Big Tech CEOs this week, Democratic leaders were busy in the background, working on proposals to change the way Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is written. Sadly, there are so many people on both sides of the ideological divide who have been so angered by the actions of Twitter and Facebook, along with the other social media heavyweights, that support for this type of action appears to be growing. But what House Commerce and Energy Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (DN.J.) and his cronies are planning to do will not stop some of the worst abuses by Jack Dorsey and company. Instead, it will open the door to unofficial censorship of anyone with insufficiently awakened opinions and could lead to endless lawsuits, not just against social media platforms, but against all online content publishers. (Axios)
The question is not whether to regulate technology companies, but how, says House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (DN.J.) to Margaret Harding McGill of Axios.
Why does it matter: Democrats, empowered in Congress and enraged by misinformation about vaccines and elections, agree it’s time to legislate on tech policy, including updating key law protecting them from liability for drug-generated content. users. The path to passing a bill is a bit clearer, and there have been signs that the biggest tech platforms are poised to adopt some changes.
Driving the news: Pallone said he wants to target financial incentives from online platforms to amplify misinformation and extreme content.
Pallone is cleverly framing the discussion by talking about the “most outrageous and extreme” content (his words) and how Facebook and Twitter are “profiting” from it because that’s the kind of content that generates a lot of clicks. It is a fact that flashy and inflammatory headlines attract attention, and if Democrats make it seem like the only people punished are billionaires like Zuckerberg and Dorsey, it’s easy to get people to agree to open the door to lawsuits and regulations.
We must keep two things in mind here. First, the Communications Decency Law doesn’t just apply to social media platforms. In fact, the original legislation was written long before those platforms were a flash in the eyes of their creators. These rules apply to any web medium where news and opinions are published and, more specifically, to any site that allows comments from the public.
However, the most important problem is that opening the door to demands and restrictions implies a system in which someone will have to decide what qualifies as “outrageous and extreme” content. Even labeling something “disinformation” opens the door to rampant abuse. We have already seen too many examples of Facebook and Twitter blocking content or suspending / banning users (almost totally conservative voices) for posting comments deemed “harmful”. This is often done under the guise of allegedly passing bad information about the pandemic, but those behavior patterns carry over into discussions of racism, social inequality, and just about any other divisive topic you’d like to name.
People on Twitter have been suspended for suggesting that the new coronavirus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, even though the former CDC chief recently said he believes that is the case as well. Twitter suspended the New York Post account for weeks because they linked it to one of their own Hunter Biden stories that ended up being 100% vindicated. (Dorsey told Congress this week that the decision was “a mistake” but would not say who made the decision or what process was used to evaluate the content.) Other examples abound.
The point is that there will be no clear definitions of what speech is allowed and what is “extreme and dangerous misinformation” other than those generated by the editors. And with Section 230 amended the way the Democrats propose, the Liberals will soon be crawling the comment sections of websites like the one you’re reading now. As soon as they find someone who cites the Danish medical study and claims that cloth masks are ineffective in protecting uninfected people from contracting the virus, they can start a lawsuit against our company for allowing “dangerous misinformation” to appear. on our site. . (Even though the results of that study have never been disproved.)
These lawsuits will (or at least should) fail eventually on First Amendment grounds, but many of these frivolous attacks will generate huge bills that will put some smaller publishers out of work. So please don’t be too quick to support Pallone’s proposal just because you think it will punish Facebook and Twitter. There is a hidden Trojan horse in this plan and the Democrats are fully aware of it. It is not an error. It is a characteristic.