Conservative politicians in the US are not giving up on trying to shift the overwhelmingly unfavorable climate against them, the tone of which is set by the most powerful tech companies as the key platforms where human interaction happens today.
While Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA) has long been touted as the very reason that allowed early internet entrepreneurship to flourish – mostly thanks to protecting companies from getting obliterated by lawsuits equating them with responsibility for what third-party content creators (i.e., users) published on there – some argue that the power dynamics and motivations have changed so profoundly 24 years later – that this legislation itself is urgently in need of at least an overhaul.
Beside allowing Big Tech to live out the ultimate capitalist “from garage riches to trillion dollar business” dream – the CDA and particularly Section 230 with its “safe harbor” protection has in the process created what some see as veritable monsters.
A group of Republican members of US Congress just proposed a new legislation – “Stop the Censorship Act of 2020” aimed at stripping tech and social media giants of Section 230 protections – but only where they remove “lawful speech on their platform.”
We obtained a copy of the bill for you here.
“Online platforms should not have special immunity to censor competition and lawful political speech,” said Rep. Gosar. “The broad and undue immunity for content and user removal granted by Section 230 must be reined in by Congress. We cannot continue to subsidize, deputize, or blackmail Silicon Valley to decide what is or isn’t an allowable conversation. Stop the Censorship Act of 2020 empowers users and limits Big Tech to the same rights and liabilities as everyone else.”
“Freedom of speech and market competition are two of the strongest pillars of American freedom. But ‘Big Tech,’ has shown little regard for either. Congress must protect the values that make America great.” said Rep. Banks.
“Our country was founded on the free exchange of ideas and the ability of all Americans to speak freely, a principle that has allowed the Internet to thrive,” said Rep. Collins. “But in recent years, companies like Twitter and Google have used Section 230 as a shield while unlawfully abusing the First Amendment rights of their users. It’s time we put an end to Big Tech’s unlawful censorship by rolling back their broad protections and promoting market competition, which is exactly what the Stop the Censorship Act of 2020 will do.”
“Freedom of speech is paramount to the fabric of America. No one should have the power to censor political speech, including ‘Big Tech’,” said Rep. Gooden.
With a fairly striking choice of words that pretty much covers Big Tech’s status today, from various political and ideological angles – i.e., being at once “subsidized, deputized, or blackmailed” – allowing them, or forcing them to act as arbiters of allowed speech – the proposed bill’s sponsors argue that this industry must be held up to the same scrutiny as “everyone else.”
However, those firmly opposed to any changes to Section 230 say those would in one fell swoop undermine the very foundation of the internet as we know it today. But what exactly is “the internet as we know it today”?
Evidence is strong that it’s an increasingly fragmented (at best) and explicitly censored, at worst, digital place.
So – what is Section 230 really protecting here? Ghosts of former startups that have since taken over the world, only to toy with it as they please – like their critics insist?
Now that this industry has indeed “flourished” beyond most people’s wildest dreams, and worst nightmares – is it really so outrageous to suggest that legislation like Section 230, passed in 1996, needs to be adjusted to modern times and current real world circumstances?
Many seem to think so, but the idea that this will be an easy and unchallenged approach is a myth and we’re going to hear a lot more about it in coming months.