If you use the Internet or social media, it’s not hard to see there’s a lot of garbage online.
That’s in large part due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which has been front and center this week after tech titans Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
These guys are poster children for smugness, and were on the receiving end from both Democrats and Republicans for their lack of accountability.
So, what’s Section 230? It’s part of a law passed in 1996 by Congress and signed by then President Bill Clinton to allow the federal regulation of the Internet.
Section 230 was passed to protect online providers and users of liability from republishing any material from third party users.
For example, if someone reposts or republishes a defamatory story on Facebook or Twitter, they and the website can’t be held liable.
“(Section 230) is perhaps the most influential law to protect the kind of innovation that has allowed the Internet to thrive since 1996,” according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The law was passed to support the Internet in its infancy, but 24 years later, the Internet dominates our lives, culture and industry. It’s also helped make the USA and world more polarized.
The problem is Section 230 prevents companies such as Google (which also owns YouTube), Facebook (which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp) and Twitter from being accountable for what they allow on their platforms.
In contrast, newspapers, television stations and radio stations are liable for what gets published in print or uttered on the air.
For instance, if the Herald publishes defamatory information, we’re responsible. But if the same content was republished by one of our readers on Facebook, then Facebook wouldn’t be liable. It’s not exactly an equal playing field.
The argument for Section 230 is that the big tech companies are only providing a forum/platform and don’t influence content.
But as we saw during election season, that’s not true — and hasn’t been for a long time.
Facebook and Twitter regularly censor posts and make editorial decisions, particularly when it comes to silencing conservative voices. That makes them publishers, not simply platform providers.
A great example is the New York Post’s stories on Hunter Biden’s laptop computer that detailed a conflict of interest between the Biden family (including Joe) and the Chinese government.
Twitter said it banned the Post’s story because of a policy against hacked material, but it didn’t come from a hacked source. It was based on interviews, written documents and a trail of text messages.
Twitter and Facebook have also removed thousands of other posts that have been critical of COVID-19 lockdowns and what many public health authorities have said about the virus. So, if you don’t tow the party line, your voice can be silenced.
Further, a number of President Trump’s posts on Twitter about potential election fraud have included a blue tag with an exclamation mark that says, “This claim about election fraud is disputed.”
But as of this writing, none of Joe Biden’s posts have received the same tag or have been removed.
It’s time for Congress to remove Section 230 protection from the tech monopolies. They’re also using their algorithms to turn Americans against each other and to track personal data usage without our knowledge. There was even mention during the Senate hearing of the companies sharing consumer information.
The tech monopolies don’t merit this protection, and Americans citizens deserve to not have their individual rights and privacy so grossly violated.
Perhaps both parties can finally come together and reform something that’s long overdue.
Reach Fred Hartman at email@example.com.