After the White House announced its practice of working with social media giant Facebook to help flag posts that it classifies as misinformation on COVID – and catching a lot of heat because of it – officials have taken a step back, trying to redefine the message and intent. The idea of a partnership between government and private business rattled cages, but then President Joe Biden gaffed his way into saying Facebook was “killing people.” After the social media conglomerate fought back, arguing that its efforts were, in reality, saving people, Biden reinvented his statement, saying the platform needs to do more to tackle misinformation. Now, administration officials are suggesting the way to force the issue may be via reform on Section 230.
As Liberty Nation’s Senior Political Analyst Tim Donner pointed out, the left and right sides of the aisle “concur on the judgment that Facebook, for one, is acting inappropriately in moderating content. But that is where the two sides part company.” The dilemma is multifold: The Republicans say social media is censoring their voice, the left claims there needs to be more censorship on what it deems misinformation, and both argue the Section 230 rule, which is part of the Communications Decency Act, needs to be updated.
An anonymous White House official reportedly went further, telling The Hill: “We are continuing to track the Congressional process to reform Section 230 … the President continues to believe that this near-unlimited immunity for platforms must come to an end.”
If the government gains the ability to censor Facebook and other social media platforms to adhere to its own definitions of what is truth and misinformation, then the question is: How long before the White House also brings this pressure to other outlets? As Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) warned:
“The Biden administration believes in power. They want to have the power to silence you. They want to have the power to silence any criticism. I’ve got to admit, for a politician, if you could have all your critics simply disappear and unable to criticize you, that might be pretty nice. But it’s contrary to the Constitution. It’s contrary to the First Amendment. It’s contrary to a free democracy. But the Biden administration is getting Big Tech to be the arm in silencing critics. And by the way, what they call misinformation very conveniently always benefits Democrats, always benefits Joe Biden.”
Cruz also pointed out that the current administration’s battle with Big Tech only strengthens former President Donald Trump’s lawsuit against Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Trump’s suit argues that the giants are violating the First Amendment by censoring people. “The biggest arguments they have in their defense is that they’re private companies, not the government,” Cruz said about Big Tech. “And the First Amendment only applies to the government.” However, the senator insisted that, according to the Supreme Court, there is an exception to the rule, which is that “government can’t use a private company to carry out a government policy.” He continued:
“And here, this is what they’re doing. Here the Biden White House is asking the Big Tech monopolists, ‘please, silence, block, disappear any views we disagree with.’ And I think that’s blatantly illegal. It’s also an abuse of power that is really contrary to the principles that our country was built on.”
On the other hand, plenty of activists continue to campaign for not less censorship, but more. Paul Barrett, deputy director of the New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, said the White House v Facebook battle is distracting from what is really important and specifically blamed Fox News in his argument. “This is a complex problem that emerges from a very varied network of sources of information, not just social media but also Fox News and even more extreme news outlets like Newsmax and OANN [One America News Network],” he claimed.
Rebecca Lenn, a senior adviser at Avaaz (a petition platform), avows that dire warnings from health experts and the rising cases of COVID are “clearly not enough for Facebook and Instagram to crack down at-scale on the infodemic that is fueling distrust and fear of vaccines in the U.S.,” according to Time. “It should be well known by now that we can no longer count on social media platforms to regulate themselves and protect users against harmful anti-vax lies.”
And so continues the debate on the Section 230 rule and whether Facebook and other social media conglomerates should be held liable for what their users post.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.