Beto O'Rourke Joins The Silly Parade Of Confused Politicians Looking To Destroy Section 230
from the the-cult-of-what-cow,-now? dept
Earlier this year it was revealed that Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke was a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow when he was a kid. To lots of folks in the tech world, this was a big deal. cDc was the original “hacking group.” And while it doesn’t sound like o’Rourke actually did that much hacking while in cDc, at the very least, it suggested that he was tech savvy and might actually understand the internet. Apparently not. On Friday, Beto revealed his plan to deal with gun violence — and apparently, that plan is to take away Section 230 protections from large internet companies.
If you’re thinking, “wait, what does Section 230 have to do with gun violence?” well, you’re correct. But apparently Beto hasn’t figured that out yet. The plan, in true Beto fashion, is quite short on details. Here’s what it says:
Hold Internet Companies Accountable for Hosting and Allowing for the Amplification of Hate Speech and Domestic Terrorism
Block terrorist content online. The New York Times reports that, since 2011, a third of white extremists responsible for attacks were inspired by others who had carried out similar attacks. Yet the internet continues to serve as a breeding ground for the rise of domestic terrorists and white supremacists. Beto is calling on internet hosting companies to follow Cloudflare?s lead to not allow 8chan back online and supports the closure of 8chan, Stormfront and other white nationalist communities housed on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Require large social media platforms to create systems designed to remove hateful activities on their sites. Beto would require large internet platforms to adopt terms of service to ban hateful activities, defined as those that incite or engage in violence, intimidation, harassment, threats, or defamation targeting an individual or group based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability. These companies also would be required to put in place systems designed to identify and act on content violating the terms of service. Platforms must be transparent when they block content and provide for an appeal process in order to guard against abuse. Amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Beto supports amending Section 230 of the CDA to remove legal immunity from lawsuits for large social media platforms that fail to change their terms of service and put in place systems as described above. Informational service providers of all sizes, including domain name servers and social media platforms, also would be held liable where they are found to knowingly promote content that incites violence.
In short, this is exactly what I noted a few weeks ago, in which our first response to mass shootings… seems to be people focusing on stripping 1st Amendment rights. Which is just weird.
Nothing in Beto’s plan makes any sense. Let’s go through it one by one.
“Blocking terrorist content online” sounds good if you’ve got no idea what you’re talking about. As we’ve discussed, historical efforts to “block terrorist content” online has really only served to delete evidence of war crimes, including stopping researchers and archivists from tracking important information. Remember how the EU told the Internet Archive that the entire Project Gutenberg was terrorist content? I’m sure Beto’s buddies in cDc would be flabbergasted that he killed Project Gutenberg.
Furthermore, a recent study showed that taking down terrorist content wasn’t helping win the war on terrorism, but was often making it much more difficult for law enforcement to use open source intelligence to track, find and stop terrorists. How the hell is that going to help stop gun violence?
Finally, any non-government person can certainly express their opinion that platforms shouldn’t host sites like 8chan or Stormfront, but both of those host mostly 1st Amendment protected content, and thus a Presidential campaign really should not be saying that, because as President you literally cannot have a policy that silences 1st Amendment protected speech. That’s how the 1st Amendment works.
And, arguably, it’s not that difficult to trace a pretty direct lineage from Cult of the Dead Cow to 8chan — and, if anyone, Beto should know that.
“Require large social media platforms to create systems designed to remove hateful activities on their sites.” Are there any “large” social media platforms that don’t already ban hateful activities in their terms and have systems designed to remove that content? The answer is no. This is a pointless, meaningless policy demanding something that’s already been done.
The only thing in here that’s interesting is that it also says platforms should be transparent in why they block content and should have an appeals process. And, sure, that’s a good thing, but it’s also not exactly the government’s job to tell them how to do all of that. And while I’ve been a loud support of more transparent content moderation policies, I can guarantee you that government mandated transparency here would be a disaster, because it would not allow for the kind of experimentation and differential approaches that various platforms take. It also doesn’t seem to realize that, on certain platforms, when done poorly, “transparency” is just a guidebook for assholes on how to troll.
“Amend CDA 230.” This part also makes no sense. Removing liability for “large social media platforms” that don’t put in place the tools above. Um. They all do already, so what’s the point of this? And, really, I don’t think sites like 8chan would count as “large” anyway, so what’s he getting at here? Even worse, Beto commits the cardinal sin of not just confusing infrastructure providers and edge service providers, he deliberately lumps them together with this line:
Informational service providers of all sizes, including domain name servers and social media platforms, also would be held liable where they are found to knowingly promote content that incites violence.
There’s a lot to unpack there and the vagueness is a problem. If he’s only talking about content that is already outside the scope of 1st Amendment (which would be speech that incites imminent violence — he leaves out the important imminent part), then, that’s already not protected by 230 anyway. Federal criminal laws have always been exempted from 230. So, this is dumb? But if he’s trying to expand the classification of what would get internet platforms in trouble, he’s going to run into yet another 1st Amendment issue really, really quickly.
As we’ve noted previously, both Republicans and Democrats are gunning for Section 230, but (often without realizing it) for the opposite reasons. Senator Josh Hawley’s ridiculous anti-230 bill would block companies from being able to moderate at all. While Beto’s bill here would attempt to pressure them into moderating much more stringently. It’s unclear how you could possibly reconcile these two approaches — both of which are almost certainly unconstitutional.
Destroying Section 230 because you’re ignorant of how the internet works is not a partisan past time. Both of the major political parties seem to be embracing this nonsense.