The rapid acceleration of a culture of the perpetually offended is colliding with freedom of political speech on the internet, and Republican senators want to throw down a gauntlet. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) announced on June 17 his plan to introduce a bill to limit Big Tech protection from lawsuits against their content moderation policies if they do not engage in a “duty of good faith” that respects political speech.
The bill, titled the “Limiting Section 230 Immunity to Good Samaritans Act,” will only affect internet platforms “with more than 30 million users in the U.S. in a month — or 300 million worldwide in a month — and more than $1.5 billion in global revenue,” Axios reports.
“For too long, Big Tech companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook have used their power to silence political speech from conservatives without any recourse for users,” Hawley said in a statement. “Section 230 has been stretched and rewritten by courts to give these companies outlandish power over speech without accountability. Congress should act to ensure bad actors are not given a free pass to censor and silence their opponents.”
The move comes one day after Google threatened to block conservative-libertarian website The Federalist from running Google ads on their sites, reportedly due to controversial reader comments about the Black Lives Matter movement. Another libertarian site, Zero Hedge, was banned.
The Communications Decency Act’s Section 230 was intended to protect online services from lawsuits stemming from the published controversial speech written by others. But critics like Hawley assert that the granting of a wide legal invulnerability to these companies as they moderate content themselves has produced a climate in which individual users find their free speech arbitrarily stifled with no means of redress.
Section 230’s “good faith” clause is ostensibly meant to assure a fair application of content moderation by platform owners. It provides legal protection for “any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.”
Getting to Define Acceptable Speech
But in our increasingly polarized culture today, the definition of “objectionable” continues to be vastly expanded as angry progressives seemingly discover new things to take offense against on a daily basis. Simply expressing admiration for Christopher Columbus can be seen as the height of bigotry in many leading leftists’ minds. Zero Hedge is reportedly being demonetized by Google, with The Federalist facing the same fate, over allegedly “racist” remarks made against Black Lives Matter in the comments section. How much power should online platforms such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have in decreeing what is and is not “objectionable” content?
The leftist Poynter Institute, a self-proclaimed “media watchdog” co-owned by the Tampa Bay Times newspaper, on May 29 posted a “fact piece” for journalists on Section 230. It reads as an apologia for political censorship.
“Misinformation and disinformation cause harm,” Poynter declares. “Social media nonsense leads people to take unprescribed medications, drink bleach, disregard social distancing warnings and ignore mask requirements. And while you have the right to pass along nonsense, nothing requires a social media network or website to host your nonsense or restricts them from placing a warning next to your posts that says it might be nonsense.”
Millions of American citizens are openly questioning why they were harshly locked down in their homes for two months and more in the name of combatting a supposed Coronavirus “pandemic” only to see the same medical “experts” who stressed the urgent necessity of such unprecedented social curbs now hailing massive Black Lives Matter protests in the streets. And now partisan media progressives are stating that disagreeing with social distancing mandates is “nonsense” speech that fully deserves to be squelched by Big Tech.
NBC News has openly served as a leading instigator of the effort to have Google demonetize The Federalist and Zero Hedge. The Tampa Bay Times owns a media organization that wants to ensure that only its interpretation of “sensible” information is made available on major online platforms. Is it any wonder conservatives feel the establishment media are trying to eliminate their competition?
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a co-sponsor of Hawley’s proposed bill, says the legislation will rein in “vague” interpretations of Section 230 and ensure that the leading online platforms are not allowed to be arbiters of good and bad political speech.
“Recent actions by Big Tech call into question the legal immunities that social media companies enjoy under Section 230 and whether these firms live up to their obligations,” Rubio declared. “It is time to take a fresh look at the statute and clarify the vague standard of ‘good faith’ for which technology companies receive legal protections. That is exactly what this bill does. While Section 230 serves an important purpose, it should not protect unrelated activities such as censorship and political activism.”
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