THE FOCUS (2/10/2021)

The (Un)Safe Tech Act 

Dems New Section 230 Bill May Push Big Tech to Censor More Speech  

On February 5, 2021, Democrats introduced a proposal to reform Section 230. Dubbed the SAFE TECH Act, the proposed bill is sponsored by Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

What is Section 230?

Section 230 says that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider” (47 U.S.C. § 230). In other words, online intermediaries that host or republish speech are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for what others say and do.

This legal and policy framework has allowed for Big Tech such as Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon to grow to reach an unprecedented control of power in the society.

 

What Changes?

Here are the changes the SAFE TECH Act would make:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any speech provided by another information content provider, except to the extent the provider or user has accepted payment to make the speech available or, in whole or in part, created or funded the creation of the speech.

(B) (c)(1)(A) shall be an affirmative defense to a claim alleging that an interactive computer service provider is a publisher or speaker with respect to speech provided by another information content provider that an interactive computer service provider has a burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence.

 

Protocol summarized the bill: “The law would strip companies of immunity for any speech they were paid to carry, such as ads or marketplace listings, and it would make clear that Section 230 does not shield companies from complying with court orders.”

 

Why Safe Tech Act?

“Section 230 has provided a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card to the largest platform companies even as their sites are used by scam artists, harassers and violent extremists to cause damage and injury. This bill doesn’t interfere with free speech – it’s about allowing these platforms to finally be held accountable for harmful, often criminal behavior enabled by their platforms to which they have turned a blind eye for too long,” said Sen. Warner in a press release

 

Consequences

The new act would cut liability protections for providers on paid-for speech like ads, which could encourage platforms to censor even more content to avoid liability.

As reported in MIT Technology Review:

“What both politicians and the public are getting wrong,” says Eric Goldman, professor of law at Santa Clara University, is that “Section 230 reform won’t stick it to Big Tech. Section 230 reform will deepen the incumbents’ competitive moats to make it even harder for new entrants to compete.”

 

Goldman is among a large number of legal experts and industry observers who worry that the proposals will not force larger companies to behave better, but will instead crush smaller companies under the weight of complaints and expensive lawsuits. Critics are concerned that the larger companies will simply start filtering out many kinds of legitimate speech to avoid lawsuits, and that the changes aimed at advertising will potentially harm anyone providing paid services, such as web hosting companies or email providers.

From Newsbusters:

Even without this legislation, Big Tech has little problem censoring speech they disagree with. Twitter censored former President Donald Trump 625 times between May 31, 2018 and January 4, 2021. President Joe Biden was not censored at all during the same time span. Facebook and Instagram censored the #stopthesteal hashtag, and recently decided to remove even mentions of the phrase. YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have banned or censored any post or video that expose fraud in the 2020 presidential election. 

Commenting on the banning of Parler by Amazon, Richard Berman wrote at Washington Times:

Not only are these tech platforms banning individual users for their views, mainly conservatives, but have now moved to ban competing social media platform they don’t own such as Parler. Apple and Google have removed the app from their online stores, effectively making it impossible for users to access this service.  

Amazon put the final nail in Parler’s coffin by kicking it off their cloud servers. After Amazon made the move, Parler’s website became unreachable. Millions of people were silenced, no matter what they were discussing. Within a matter of days, Parler went from being the number one app on Apple’s App Store to being unreachable. 

The justification for banning Parler? Apple, Google, and Amazon claim that Parler doesn’t police its users’ comments enough. This is rich coming from the companies fighting tooth and nail to keep Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that offers tech companies legal protection from their users’ false claims.

Denying people the ability to migrate to a rival platform, poses clear anti-trust ramifications. This textbook oligopolistic power move is enabled by both an inability to enter the market and the rights to inexpensive moderation afforded under Section 230, a section which is undermined by the same action which it enabled.

The Big Tech are anti conservatives—and anti Trump. In an attempt to show otherwise, a billionaire leftist funded a bogus study done by NYU professors  that the Big Tech are actually neutral. Tucker Carlson has a brilliant expose on this issue:

 

This new paper is called "False Accusation, The Unfounded Claim that Social Media Companies Censor Conservatives." On page 16, right there in black and white, we learn that "Conservatives frequently point to Twitter's practice of suspending or permanently banning account holders as evidence of bias against the right." Happily, the study concludes, "facts don’t support this claim. Conservatives do get suspended or banned for violating Twitter’s rules against such things as harassment, hateful conduct, or, as in Trump’s case, glorifying violence. But liberals are excluded in this fashion, as well."

 

Can we get some numbers on that, NYU? No, actually we can't. In the words of the study, "[p]inning down precise proportions is impossible because Twitter doesn’t release sufficient data." Are you following the reasoning here? Their conclusion is that Twitter is not biased and we can be certain it's not biased because Twitter refuses to release data on who it bans. Case closed.

 

This so-called academic study was, in fact, paid for by Big Tech. It was funded by a man called Craig Newmark, one of the many Silicon Valley billionaires who paid for the Joe Biden for President campaign. Now he's paying for this.

One of the authors of this so-called academic study is a man called Paul Barrett. Craig Newmark is really Paul Barrett's Lorenzo de'Medici, his patron. In September, Barrett released another study on why we should be very nice to Big Tech, as well as deeply respectful and always obedient. That study was also funded by Craig Newmark as well as by George Soros.

 

What Should Be Done with Section 230?

Writing at American Thinker on December 9, 2020, Ted Noel presented an interesting argument. He essentially proposes the social media platforms to create public and private or closed forums.

 

The MOTU ("The Masters of the Universe") are blatantly corrupt when they prevent my followers, who have the unilateral right to unfollow me, from seeing what I have to say.  GooFaTwit (Google, Facebook, Twitter) are no longer acting within the intent of the statute to protect others from indecency.  They've taken it as carte blanche to do whatever they wish with complete impunity.

But if we abolish CDA 230 as President Trump demands, we create a whole new set of problems.  Now anyone with a bulletin board who innocently misses a violent post by a crank can be sued for damages.  So we seem to be between Scylla and Charybdis.  Do we pursue legal action against a "publisher" who can plausibly claim in court to not be a publisher under CDA 230?  Or is there another way?

Having pondered this for some time, I believe that another option exists.  First, we have to maintain a safe harbor for "neutral public forums."  Thus, if a "neutral electronic forum" were to have certain user-selected filters that eliminated certain posts, then the forum would be held harmless for whatever that user chose to block.  Of particular importance, in keeping with the original "decency" concern, parental filters might be the default, with various safeguards in place to ensure only adults access certain threads.  Beyond that, only posts that are not constitutionally protected could safely be removed.

A safe harbor for moderated forums would require a clear public statement of the principles used in content moderation.  Each participant would then have to affirmatively consent to that statement.  Functionally, this would become similar to what FB calls "closed groups."

What would become of GooFaTwit under this "CDA 230 v2"?  They would have a simple choice.  They could elect to be "neutral public forums."  A person who does not consent to the rules within the "closed group area" would not be exposed to any "fact-checking," "content moderation," or other editorial intervention except for constitutionally questionable speech.  This would functionally split the MOTU into "Open FB," Closed FB," and so on for the others.  Should they decline to make this change, they would be classified as publishers, and would become liable for what they allow to be posted.

Rather than finding new ways to sue these companies and forcing them to regulate people's speech more, we should be forcing them to be the platforms they claim to be. Penalties should be enacted for blocking any speech that is not openly calling for violence. This is essentially what Trump proposed much to dismay of the left.

 

If YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter want to be a platform and enjoy the protections therein, then be a platform, NOT a publisher. Unfortunately, the proposed bill by the Senate Democrats will force the social media platforms to act as publishers which in turn incentivizes them to do more censorship...of conservative voices. 

Suggested Readings

The SAFE TECH Act Offers Section 230 Reform, But the Law’s Defenders Warn of Major Side Effects

Tucker Carlson: NYU's Farce of A Study on Big Tech Censorship of Conservatives

Senate Dems New Section 230 Bill May Incentivize Big Tech to Censor MORE Speech

Texas Following Florida, Drafting Bill to Combat Big Tech Censorship

Big Tech’s Big Blunder

How Big Tech Censorship Is Trampling and Subverting the First Amendment

Democratic Plan to Reform Section 230 Could Backfire

Everything You Need to Know About Section 230

What Should Be Done with Section 230?