Every corner of the internet from Reddit to the New York Times, people want Section 230 to stay, and the sentiment seems to be bipartisan. On the other hand, the top dogs from both political parties (Trump and Biden) have stated publicly that they want to repeal section 230.
This dissonance is confusing because usually the top brass from each political party comes up with a narrative and feeds it to media and social media organizations, quickly molding the ground level opinions to whatever they see fit.
But this is a unique situation where the subject matter being scrutinized are the media/social media organizations themselves, and it gives us an extremely rare opportunity to witness a disagreement between media and government.
I think I stand with the government on this one. Even after talking with many informed sources who support upholding Section 230, I’m still not convinced. So I’m laying out why Section 230 should be repealed to give myself the best opportunity to be convinced otherwise. Let me know why I’m the biggest idiot on the internet in the comments or on our social media.
My understanding is that Section 230 protects online platforms from legal repercussion resulting from information or comments posted by its users. So if someone posts “Who’s coming to the Nazi Party?” on Facebook, you can’t sue Facebook for hate speech or discrimination against Jews. This is fair because Facebook or any other platform shouldn’t be responsible for someone else’s actions using their tools. Just like it wouldn’t be fair to sue BIC Markers if someone draws a giant penis on your forehead when you pass out drunk.
By having Section 230 in place, we’re able to distinguish between networks that enable people to say or write anything through their platform like AT&T or T-Mobile, from publishers that edit and scrutinize their writer’s content like the New York Times or Fox News. Meaning if Fox News publishes an article incorrectly claiming that the Sandy Hook Shooting was orchestrated by an underground feminist cult, feminists would have every right to take legal actions against Fox. But if a random person made the same accusation on a phone call through the T-Mobile network, T-Mobile isn’t liable.
In this hypothetical scenario, Fox is liable because they deliberately chose to publish a false claim through their editorial process, whereas T-Mobile isn’t liable because they’re just a service provider with no editorial function. (T-Mobile only uses its monitoring capabilities to spy on people, not to bleep out certain things you say.)
As we all know, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Google – all the major online media networks do some curating. If you post a video brutalizing an animal, it will be removed by Facebook; if you search for “Best TV Reporters” on Google, Sean Hannity comes in 22nd even though he has the highest TV ratings; YouTube banned Alex Jones from having his own channel but still allows him to appear as a guest on other people’s shows; and Instagram won’t let you slip a nipple if you’re a woman.
So if Section 230 is repealed, social media platforms would have to let everything fly with the exception of things like child pornography, fraud, and direct threats that are not protected under the first amendment.
Alternatively they could censor everything that is deemed to be false, in a similar way to true publishers like the New York Times. But perfectly sifting through billions of posts every single day is probably impossible even for giants like Facebook. Even if they miraculously came up with an algorithm that censored 99.9% of false content, they would still be open to at least thousands of lawsuits a day.
So again, social media sites and websites that take in any form of public comments would have to let everything fly that’s not protected under the first amendment.
The benefits of such a change are obvious: Social Media Websites can no longer push content aligned with their advertisers or political ideals, giving power back to the masses (i.e. whoever gets the most likes or comments rises to the top – no shadow banning).
But there are definitely drawbacks to doing away Section 230.
For example, world governments work diligently to influence other countries’ elections. If the U.S. allows any kind of misinformation campaign to proliferate on its social media platforms under the guise of “Free Speech”, it would put the U.S. at a huge disadvantage on the global stage. After all we know China would not return this favor on its home grown social media sites, and would continue to censor any material created by U.S. government agencies to undermine confidence in the Chinese government, putting the United States a step behind in the very important global game of political meddling.
But this doomsday scenario seems unlikely even if 230 is repealed. Yes, if 230 is repealed and all the social media companies let anyone post anything, it’s going to get crazy. Russian bots, racists, extreme feminists, extreme men’s rights activists. They’ll all come out of the woodwork and let you know who they hate and what should be done to them.
Fortunately, most people don’t want to be involved in those hateful community, so they’ll likely just stop using Facebook or Twitter all together.
At the same time most people have interests and passions they want to share with like-minded people.
Let’s say you like Nickelback. Now instead of going to the Nickelback group on Facebook, you can start Nickelbackforlife.com and have a blast there. Of course there’s going to be Nickelback haters coming to your website and trolling you, but they’ll most likely be overwhelmed and downvoted by people who actually love the band.
On the plus side, YOU get to collect 100% of the ad revenue and engagement data. Not Facebook or Twitter.
You can even promote your website on Facebook, and because Facebook won’t have the ability to downplay your Nickelback posts in favor of established advertisers like Amazon or Sony, the chances of your site being successful is even higher.
You could argue that moving away from centralized social media will prevent ideas from cross pollinating, creating echo chambers. For instance if you spend most of your time on Nickelbackforlife.com, you’ll never discover Creed.
But that argument holds no credence (get it?). Social media today is already an echo chamber where you’re only presented with things you already agree with based on your previous searches, likes, location data, age, sex, credit score, purchases, and everything else. Having a more decentralized internet isn’t going to make that any worse. And open minded people would still seek out and find communities with different views in the same way they do today.
Finally, we have to acknowledge that Trump and Biden’s proposals to revoke Section 230 isn’t coming from the kindness of their hearts. Trump wants to get back at Twitter and Facebook for censoring and labeling his posts as fake news, and Biden understands the same thing could happen to him or his friends if the political tide shifts in the future.
Whatever the motives, repealing Section 230 could decentralize wealth and power currently held by tech giants, leading to less inequality, and a more exciting and independent internet.
If by some miracle of God our supreme leader is reading this, please keep your word about revoking section 230.
Change my mind.