Congressman Beto O'Rourke, one of the presidential hopefuls seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, has come up with a proposal to counter “hate speech and gun violence.”
The way O'Rourke wants to tackle the first of these issues – that are banded together in news reports – is by amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
According to Beto's campaign page:
Amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Beto supports amending Section 230 of the CDA to remove legal immunity from lawsuits for large social media platforms that fail to change their terms of service and put in place systems as described above. Informational service providers of all sizes, including domain name servers and social media platforms, also would be held liable where they are found to knowingly promote content that incites violence.
It's a popular sentiment among his potential electorate: force tech giants like Facebook, Google's YouTube, and Twitter to police content on their platforms even more vigorously and more “proactively” than they do today by making them responsible for what appears on the platform.
And he's come up with an idea how to do this – by changing the Communications Decency Act, with the goal of taking away legal protections from social media platforms to go after “online radicalization and white supremacy.”
Like many of the initiatives sounded off on the campaign trail, this one appears to be difficult to implement in real life. Bills requiring companies to moderate against legal speech face significant constitutional challenges under the First Amendment.
Section 230 was designed to protect interactive computer services from liability for content published on their platforms by others – by not treating them as the publisher of any information provided by another content provider. It's what's allowed the internet to thrive and, without it, the consequences for freedom of speech would be immense.
O'Rourke's proposal is to remove Section 230 protections from those social media platforms who fail to police content to the desired standard laid out in his plan, that includes anything seen as inciting to “violence, intimidation, harassment, threats, or defamation based on demographics like race, religion, immigration status, and gender identity.”
But, as the report notes, changes to the law have also been urged from the other side of America's political divide – namely by Republican senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, among others.
However, their motivation is different: they would like to find a way to stop social media giants like Facebook from employing content censorship targeting conservatives.
Hawley's argument is that the act allows tech companies to escape liability of traditional publishers, in exchange for which they are supposed to provide political censorship-free online forums – but that they have failed to live up to their end of the bargain.
According to the Verge report, the tech industry is keen to maintain the status quo regarding Section 230.