Senator Mark Warner Repeats Senator Ted Cruz's Mythical, Made Up, Incorrect Claims About Section 230
from the not-how-it-works,-senator dept
Senator Mark Warner was supposed to be the “tech savvy” Senator. He’s not really showing that. He’s been leading the charge to regulate various parts of the internet, which might be fine if he knew what the fuck he was talking about. But, as is made clear in his latest interview with Newsweek, he’s extremely confused about the legal underpinnings of the internet. Specifically, he is repeating Senator Ted Cruz’s myth that Section 230 was designed to only apply to “neutral” platforms that don’t moderate.
Can you explain Section 230?
Section 230 was called the Communications Decency Act in the late ’90s, and at that moment in time, there was a decision made that social media companies, and their connections, were going to be viewed as kind of just dumb pipes, not unlike a telco. The platform companies would have no obligation for the content that went over their networks. In the late ’90s, that might have made sense. But in 2019, when 65 percent of Americans get some?or all?of their news from Facebook and Google, there is clearly some curation going on.
This is literally the opposite of truth. It is the opposite of what happened and is the opposite of why Section 230 was put in place. As we’ve discussed over and over again, Section 230 was a direct response to the ruling in Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy, in which Prodigy (an ISP, not a “social network”) was deemed liable for content it had not moderated, because it did heavy moderation on its forums in an effort to be “family friendly.” The point of Section 230 was to encourage moderation, and to not have internet services be “dumb pipes.”
Senator Warner might know this if he just read the law. There’s a whole section on how the law is designed to encourage more moderation by the platforms, and then it says directly:
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected
That’s the law encouraging sites to moderate.
Senator Warner’s description is just repeating the myth that Senator Cruz has been stating for over a year. We weren’t surprised that other members of Cruz’s party were repeating that nonsense, but Warner’s party had mostly been making different stupid comments about Section 230, so it’s disappointing to see him revisit this myth.
Other parts of the interview are actually good — and he even brings up that interoperability and the ability to move to a competing service with your data might be a better approach than breaking up the big internet companies. And, on that, he’s correct. But if he’s premising his decisions regarding 230 on a history that gets the law literally exactly backwards, it’s difficult to put much faith in him getting any changes correct.