NY Times Calls Out Politicians For Lying About Section 230

from the good-job dept

We’ve spent months now highlighting how politicians (of both parties) continually misrepresent what Section 230 of the CDA says. There are open questions as to whether or not this is because they don’t know the law, or they don’t care, and they think lying about it helps them politically. Considering that two of the most vocal individuals are Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley — both of whom have a long history of being Constitutional lawyers — it is difficult to believe that both aren’t fully aware that they are lying.

Now the NY Times is calling them out, with an opinion piece by editorial board member Sarah Jeong, highlighting how badly they get the law wrong. She notes that the law is short and easy to read, and therefore no one has an excuse for blatantly misrepresenting it.

Section 230 of the C.D.A. is neither long nor particularly inscrutable. It clocks in at under 1,000 words, and it makes clear that the law does not premise protection on political neutrality. Neither does it force tech companies to assume either the role of ?publisher? or ?platform.? And it states that C.D.A. 230 has no bearing on federal criminal law ? or on intellectual property law, for that matter.

She also highlights that there are some reasonable arguments to be made that the existence of Section 230 has stopped lawsuits from people who have legitimately been harmed — something we’ve discussed quite a bit as well. There are real and legitimate questions over how to handle those situations (and, relatedly, if the internet platforms themselves are the proper party on which to place liability or responsibility). However, you aren’t going to have reasonable and nuanced conversations about any of that if you’re lying about the law.

But there can be no honest debate over a version of C.D.A. 230 that doesn?t exist. Political neutrality has never been part of C.D.A. 230, and to make it so would require a complete overhaul of the law. Senator Hawley?s bill calls for government regulation of the internet on an unprecedented scale. The Federal Communications Commission used to enforce the Fairness Doctrine on the airwaves, a policy under which broadcasters were required to air balanced opinions on controversial issues ? balanced from the F.C.C.?s perspective, that is. It?s already perilous to have a government regulator decide what is fair and balanced. It makes even less sense when applied to the internet. In 1969, the Supreme Court upheld the F.C.C.?s power to enforce the Fairness Doctrine on the grounds that the airwaves are an inherently limited resource. But the sea of internet postings is boundless.

The Republican Party?s new obsession with ?political neutrality? has left former allies reeling. Berin Szôka, the president of the libertarian-leaning think tank TechFreedom, said in an interview that Republicans were once his natural allies on a wide range of issues, but have now ?betrayed their most fundamental principles, principles they spent decades fighting about ? to keep the government out of meddling in broadcast media, fighting against the Fairness Doctrine. And now they want exactly that but on steroids for the internet.?

As Jeong notes in her piece, it might make sense to have an actual debate on Section 230, but almost no one — least of all the legislators who are responsible for doing so — seem willing to have an honest discussion about the law.

But the debate is not focused on the real issues with C.D.A. 230 ? indeed, it is not focused on the actual text of C.D.A. 230.

Perhaps the discourse will be improved if we all take a moment to actually read the text of C.D.A. 230, but Mr. Szôka is not optimistic. Senators Cruz and Hawley, he said, are totally aware of what the statute says and what the case law around it actually is. ?They?re smart lawyers. And they absolutely know what they?re talking about is a warping of Section 230.?

Of course, what the opinion piece does not discuss is why Hawley and Cruz are so eager to misrepresent the law and to grandstand about it. It doesn’t discuss how this misrepresentation plays to a certain base, and gets them riled up and angry. Indeed, I’ll expect many people in the comments of this very post to continue to make false claims about CDA 230 and “neutrality” that are simply untrue. It has created a narrative that is not accurate and is so far from truth that any debate on it gets mired in the complexities of having to call out statements so dishonest that they cannot have been made in good faith.

There may be legitimate debates to be had over the impact of 230 and how it works — but when politicians are so focused on scoring political points rather than dealing with real issues, that’s never going to happen.

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Comments on “NY Times Calls Out Politicians For Lying About Section 230”

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Gary (profile) says:

What they Want

Politicians seem to have cranked up their reality distortion field because they want to "Do Something." They can’t tell the difference between the truth and their spin half the time.
This is especially apparent with 230. So many people talking about it but can’t seem to just get the basic facts straight.
We can’t talk about how to fix it (or not fix it) until we have an honest discourse of how it is currently working. As it’s been upheld by the courts, we should have a pretty good baseline to discuss what it is doing now.

When it comes down to it, 230 is about putting blame on the poster rather than the carrier. A fundamental concept that has allowed user generated content to flourish. Without it we are down to walled gardens, with only content approved by a few gatekeepers like Disney.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What they Want

Without it we are down to walled gardens, with only content approved by a few gatekeepers like Disney.

And anybody prepared to put their own opinion online, and select comments to support that opinion. Its not that blogs will not have comments, it just they will be selected by the owner of the blog to suite their agenda.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Destroying would either remove the protection that allows sites to allow user posting, in which case they will curate heavily to avoid legal risks, or result in no curation, and sites overrun by spam and trolls. The latter could result in an internet that makes 8 chan look like a shining example of moderate speech, at least unto all that is left on the Internet is curated and expensive content services, and shopping sites.

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

"remove the protection that allows sites to allow user posting"
Can someone translate this into english?

Ok, short answer is before 230 there was a case that one of the first online services got slammed for something someone posted. Because of that ruling, online providers would only be able to leave content completely unmoderated (spam and all) if they were going to allow content online.
Section 230 addressed that, and specifically shifted the liability to the poster, not the service. Services were free to moderate and would be shielded.

This has made a great number of people unhappy. But it is a happy medium that let the internet as we now know it happen.

Without the protection of section 230, this posting board could not exist. Open comments would have to be held and checked – thoroughly – for anything remotely libelous or sketchy. (Even bad stock tips. Seriously.)
Since it would be impossible to filter out all bad content – even if TF hired a team of experts – this comment section would be shut down because they’d be sued for the comment contents – even the crazy drek the AC’s post.

ladyattis (profile) says:

What's the end game?

I’m still puzzled by these pushes to gut 230 or otherwise add further liability onto website owners. Is there someone angling to become a third party that "verifies" posts and other content? I’m just trying to see if this a money induced thing or something more fundamental such as just blanket ignorance as to how 230 works.

Lee Jitimate says:

Re: What's the end game?

What’s the end game?

The end game of masnicks is total arbitrary control of all speech on the internet.

Masnick promotes the UN-American opposite of The Fairness Doctrine — RULE BY BORN RICH PLUTOCRATS.

And if think otherwise, then YOU must answer how the country / world ever got along with the rules on print publishing — that mere printers don’t get to control what others want to publish.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Major publishers, however, do control what books, magazines, newspapers, etc. are published in large enough quantities to reach a sizeable audience. Publishers also vet the content therein to keep their collective asses out of legal hot water. That is, as you have been told countless times before, the difference between publishers and social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, etc. doesn’t vet user-generated content before its publication.

ladyattis (profile) says:

Re: Re: What's the end game?

But the Fairness Doctrine was applicable because the radio spectrum is finite so having TV and radio requirements to have ‘balanced’ views isn’t exactly novel. By the way, the Fairness Doctrine never legally applied to print publishers as there’s no finite quality to print as there is to radio as you always use a vanity printer and hire a distributor to handle the release of your wouldbe NYT killer. Just don’t expect the results to be all that spectacular. At the end of the day, websites are more like newspapers than they are TV/radio stations as there’s no current way to exhaust the number of them you can create (especially once IPv6 is finally adopted universally). No one is stopping you from self-hosting and self-publishing. So why are you demanding others to handle all of that for the price of free?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What's the end game?

Control (and to some extent competition) is the endgame – In the past Media companies were in control – the companies that owned the newspapers, TV stations and Radio stations, largely got to control what kind of news the public got to hear, which gave them power and money.

However the internet changed that now anyone has the chance to be heard without having to go through the legacy Media companies, get rid of Section 230 and the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Youtube will either become tightly controlled (so they don’t get sued) or just shut down as it’s impossible for them to vet every single post, with the legacy media companies hoping people will go back to getting their news from newspapers and TV.

Similar thing with Legacy Entertainment companies the internet lowered the barrier to entry so they are no longer the only gatekeepers and will back anything that tries to turn back time.

Trolling Lawyers will also be happy as without S230 they’d be free to sue the platforms which have money and are easier to find, rather than having to find the actual person who posted the content and try and get money out of them.

There are also a good number of people that will cheer anything that hurts ‘big tech’ regardless of the consequences.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What's the end game?

Is there someone angling to become a third party that "verifies" posts and other content?

The more effort that’s required to do it, the more existing monopolies can become entrenched. Facebook, Google, et al. have thousands of people to handle this; their smaller competitors will not.

It would be interesting to know whether there’s some contractor all the big companies use that’s pushing for this.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: What's the end game?

In addition to reasons others have proposed, I’d say it depends on which side you’re looking at. To those that think that platforms are moderating too much, they believe that gutting 230 will force them to moderate less since doing so could cost them and make them liable. To those that think platforms aren’t moderating enough, they believe that gutting 230 will force them to moderate more, as they will be held liable for anything they miss.

Both of them are wrong, and ironically enough if they do manage to kill 230 neither of them are going to be happy, as the ones who thought they were being moderated too heavily will find out just how bad it is when sites become much more risk-averse and start moderating even more, whereas those who wanted more moderation will likely find themselves in the crosshairs for the same reason and have their stuff removed even more as well.

Of course there’s also the simple reason that it plays well with the gullible and foolish for a politician to be seen Going After Big Tech, which have become the current preferred punching bag for scoring cheap PR points.

Lee Jitimate says:

Oh, surprise. Leftist NYT sets up to censor conservatives.

This is simply an opinion piece that leaves out that the purpose of all law in the US of A is The Public Good.

So if Section 230 doesn’t serve that, needs changed. It’s not milled into titanium.

Tell me, Masnick, just this once, WHY YOU’RE SO KEEN ON SECTION 230 AS CURRENT?

I’m sure that if you attempt that will trot out some reference to The Public Good, but then…

you have to answer how The Public is served by corporations being able to arbitrarily censor us.

ladyattis (profile) says:

Re: Oh, surprise. Leftist NYT sets up to censor conservatives.

Why are you insistent on having access to a random website’s comment section? Like there’s no one stopping you from rolling your own WordPress blog and doing some SEO to get page 1 results on Google. Sure it’s work, but it’s infinitely easier than trying to change the laws to get free access and audience in another site’s forum. Just roll your own blog and stop being a brat.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Oh, surprise. Leftist NYT sets up to censor conservative

LOL @ SEO unicorns and fairies. The truth is, since everyone and their dog also wants to get page 1 results they’ve got to either be very careful about what they put on their blog so the keywords will pull it up (good luck with that) or try to hack the system in some way (which search engines penalise).

The only way to make your blog popular is to have the kind of content in that people want to see. SEO hackery just results in ad farms and the like getting to the top of the search results.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Oh, surprise. Leftist NYT sets up to censor conserva

The only reason my name comes up with my details on page 1 of Google search results is because I’m a noisy so-and-so using my real name on TD and Twitter. But that’s the only keyword (both names together) that will do the job. Some professor chap comes up many pages before I do on my surname alone. Could be because he’s more interesting to more people than I am. I’m okay with that.

ladyattis (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Oh, surprise. Leftist NYT sets up to censor conserva

Oh I’m not doubting how hard it is to get on page 1 but my point still stands that access to an audience which is unwilling to listen isn’t something the law can provide. Conservatives just haven’t accepted that the younger generations (apparently, I’m part of that even though I just turned 39, lol) aren’t buying what they’re selling. They just seem to think if they can force eyeballs of a hostile audience to read their arguments they’ll magically convert them over to their side. It’s like the Clockwork Orange conversion scene but 100x worse imo.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sarah Jeong: “Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.” In another tweet, she wrote, “Dumbass fucking white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants.” A third tweet consists simply of “#CancelWhitePeople.”

The tech industry wanted a voice on the NYT editorial board, but Sarah Jeong ended up being the wrong person for that job.

ECA (profile) says:

What the Hell, being a Contitutional lawyer mean for much??

Education Required
Constitutional lawyers must hold a bachelor’s degree and obtain a juris doctor (J.D.) degree from an accredited law school before being admitted to the bar association of the state…

Admission to the bar of a state’s federal court or the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States is also necessary because many constitutional lawyers argue cases in these courts. After law school, some attorneys, including constitutional lawyers, earn a Master of Laws degree or obtain a professional certification from the American Bar Association, among other organizations…

So..They get to learn all about 1 part of all the laws that "WE, the people.." have to live by??
A bachelor degree??

Like lawyers, they use legal criteria and precedents to facilitate the resolution process, and their responsibilities can include interviewing disputing parties and witnesses and preparing formal settlement agreements. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement for obtaining a position; some employers may prefer candidates with a law degree or a Master of Business Administration.

but all they know is generally 1 Major part of our fed??
no wonder they went to Politics, they dont have much work pother wise..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: What the Hell, being a Contitutional lawyer mean for

how about the idea that these folks only need a bachelors degree, in law. to be a constitutional lawyer.

No, they don’t.

Constitutional lawyers must hold a bachelor’s degree and obtain a juris doctor (J.D.) degree from an accredited law school before being admitted to the bar association of the state in which they want to practice. Admission to the bar of a state’s federal court or the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States is also necessary because many constitutional lawyers argue cases in these courts.

So, you need a bachelor’s degree, then to go to law school and get your JD, and then get admitted to both the state and federal bar to be a constitutional attorney.

The second section you quoted ("A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement for obtaining a position") describes the minimal educational requirement for Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators, not attorneys.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What the Hell, being a Contitutional lawyer mean

Part of this is interesting as When they get the JD, they can specialize..and they only specialized in 1 thing..
Out of all the laws and regs, in this nation.. how many times and how many Lawyers only do the Constitution?? are you really going to make allot of money with only 1 specialty?? and its one that you only deal with the Fed. I will bet that Most are not registered anymore with their home states…they dont need to..They arnt working as lawyers.

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