Why Is The Washington Post Publishing Blatantly False Propaganda About Section 230?
from the the-view-from-nowhere dept
One of the big points we keep making about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is that we totally get it when grandstanding politicians or online trolls misrepresent the law. But the media should not be complicit in pumping blatantly false statements. While I may disagree with them personally, there are intellectually honest arguments for why Section 230 should be amended or changed. I’m happy to debate those arguments. What’s ridiculous, however, is when the arguments are based on a completely false reading of the law. And no upstanding news organization should allow blatant misinformation like that. However, with all the misguided screaming about “liberal bias” in the media, newspapers like the Washington Post and the NY Times seem to feel like they need to publish blatant disinformation, to avoid having trolls and idiots accuse them of bias.
Even so, the Washington Post’s decision to publish this op-ed by Charlie Kirk attacking Section 230 may be the worst we’ve seen. It is so full of factually false information, misleading spin, and just downright disinformation that no respectable publication should have allowed it to be published. And yet, there it is in the Washington Post — one of the major news organizations that Donald Trump likes to declare “fake news.” If you’re unaware of Kirk, he’s a vocal Trump supporter, who runs an organization called Turning Point USA that appears to specialize in playing the victim in all sorts of ridiculous conspiracies… all while (hypocritically) arguing that his political opponents (“the libs”) are always acting as victims and are “training a generation of victims who are being trained to be offended by something.” And yet, it seems that it’s really Kirk who is always offended.
This Washington Post op-ed is just one example. Here, Kirk is playing the victim of (as of yet, still unproven) anti-conservative bias on social media.
By now, most conservatives are convinced that our voices are being shadow-banned, throttled, muted and outright censored online. In fact, amid protestations by groups including the Internet Association, which claims Facebook, Google and Twitter are bias free, it?s an open fact that Big Tech is run predominantly by those on the ideological left. Facebook?s founder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter?s chief executive Jack Dorsey even admitted this before Congress, and footage of Google?s leadership consoling one another after President Trump?s victory in 2016 indicates the same is true for them.
Many on the right have complained loudly and often of anti-conservative bias online. Unfortunately, all too often this is where our efforts stop. Once we?re ignored or dismissed long enough, conservatives seem to just shrug our collective shoulders and accept defeat. It?s this type of passivity that has allowed progressives to dominate film and television, universities and large swaths of the mainstream news media. How did they accomplish that? By fighting tooth and nail for what they believe in every vertical.
While it is true that many people who work in the big internet companies probably lean towards the Democratic side of the aisle (though not nearly as far as some make it out to be), that’s different than proving that they have put in place policies that are biased against “conservatives” (and I use that term loosely). Again, nearly every example that people trot out actually involves trolling, harassment, actual Nazis or other violations of terms of service. And while these companies sometimes make mistakes, they seem to do so pretty much across the board — which is the very nature of moderating so much content.
Separately, many of the links in Kirk’s opening above don’t actually say what he pretends they say. Professor Matthew Boedy went through the above links and put together a great Twitter thread unpacking how he misrespresents nearly everything:
This is not the same as Kirk's claim. While Pew also found 85% of that same group believes it is likely "social media companies intentionally censor political viewpoints that those companies find objectionable," that is not specific to just conservative tweets. 4/
— Matthew Boedy (@MatthewBoedy) July 11, 2019
"Whether or not monopolies are a bad thing is for the consumer and aspiring competitors to decide." Kirk inaccurately makes it seem the article agrees with him that these companies "are unfairly stifling competition." It doesn't say that. 12/
— Matthew Boedy (@MatthewBoedy) July 11, 2019
The thread is a lot longer and covers many more examples. Either way, Charlie needs to play the victim, and he’s decided that the culprit is Section 230. Because he either doesn’t understand Section 230, or is deliberately misrepresenting it.
The second obstacle to the free market is Big Tech?s exploitation of preexisting laws, namely Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that was passed by Congress in the ’90s. Social media companies have leveraged Section 230 to great effect, and astounding profits, by claiming they are platforms ? not publishers ? thereby avoiding under the law billions of dollars in potential copyright infringement and libel lawsuits. YouTube, for example, advertises itself as an open platform ?committed to fostering a community where everyone?s voice can be heard.? Facebook and Twitter make similar claims. Let?s be clear, when these companies censor or suppress conservative content, they are behaving as publishers, and they should be held legally responsible for the all the content they publish. If they want to continue hiding behind Section 230 and avoid legal and financial calamity, they must reform.
And here’s where an editor totally should have stepped in, because almost all of this is wrong or gibberish. First off, even a cursory glance at the text of CDA 230 shows that it excludes intellectual property, such as copyright. Section (e)(2) literally says: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit or expand any law pertaining to intellectual property.” So what the fuck is Kirk talking about when he says that they used this law to avoid “billions of dollars in potential copyright infringement… lawsuits.” The answer is that Kirk has no idea what he’s talking about, and now seems to be repeating propaganda pushed out by “liberal” Hollywood.
As for it allowing them to avoid “libel lawsuits,” well, yes. But that’s because Section 230 is about properly applying liability to those who make the statements. We don’t blame AT&T when someone uses a phone to make a bomb threat. We don’t blame Ford when someone gets into a car accident. And we don’t blame Facebook when someone posts defamatory content. It’s kind of straightforward.
Still, where it’s really egregious is that Kirk continues to push the total myth that Section 230 allows companies to hide if they just claim they’re a “platform” rather than “a publisher.” That’s not how the law works at all. It doesn’t make any such distinction.
And here’s the really crazy thing: if Kirk got his “wish” and actually got rid of CDA 230 and made internet companies liable, his own content would likely be at the top of the chopping block. Remember, one of Kirk’s claims to fame was when he published a “Professor Watchlist” calling out allegedly “left-leaning academics” who he feels discriminate against conservatives. He can do that because that’s 1st Amendment protected speech (opinion). But if 230 is amended to require “neutrality,” well, such a list is anything but neutral. Furthermore, the risk of liability of hosting such a list would be high. Even though I’d argue that it’s protected speech, you can bet that someone might find some of the claims on the list defamatory — and thus there would be strong pressure for sites to pull it down to avoid liability.
As radio host Dennis Prager often says, if an airline permitted only those passengers holding the New York Times to board but then denied Wall Street Journal readers, we would all rightly call this discrimination and demand the airline change its policy.
This is dumb for a huge number of reasons. First of all, I don’t think we’d all rightly call it discrimination. We’d call it a business decision. Probably a bad one. Which is why no airline would ever do such a thing. Second, where exactly is the social media platform that is banning people for subscribing to the WSJ, but not the NYT? It doesn’t exist. This is such a hyperbolic, misleading example. People are being banned for harassment and trolling. Not for holding conservative viewpoints. No one’s being kicked off of platforms for calling for lower taxes, less government, or other traditionally “conservative” ideas.
In the same way, conservatives cannot win the battle of ideas if we?re marginalized or removed from mainstream culture and mainstream platforms.
This, also, is laughable. Remember, “right wing” media dominates both radio and cable television. I don’t see Kirk demanding that Fox News host more liberal viewpoints to balance out Hannity. And, once again, even in the supposedly “liberal” Washington Post, he’s allowed to post this blatantly false nonsense.
Again, the Washington Post should absolutely be willing to post different points of view, including those of Kirk and his allies. But they shouldn’t allow him to blatantly spread disinformation about what the law says and what it does. That’s just… as Kirk would say, “fake news.”