Biden Spreads False Info By Saying That Taking Away Section 230 Will Make Facebook Liable For Spreading False Info

from the ok-boomer dept

Well, here we go again. So many politicians seem to think that Section 230 is the root of anything bad they see online, and insist that it needs to be removed to fix things that have nothing to do with 230. The latest is Joe Biden, who has a pretty horrible record regarding his own understanding of technology and the internet. In a weird comment on CNN about what to do about Facebook and moderating political advertising… Biden shifted the conversation to Section 230 after first making some false statements about what the law requires.

Here’s what he says:

I just think that social media has to be more socially conscious of what is important in terms of our democracy. And part of that is a little, uh, truth in lending here. And everything is not about whether they can make a buck. It requires the journalistic responsibility you have [points at CNN journalist interviewing him]. You can’t do what they can do on Facebook. You can’t do what they can do and just say anything at all and not acknowledge that when you know something is fundamentally not true. And I just think it’s a little out of hand.

And I, for one, think that we should be considering taking away the exemption that they cannot be sued for knowingly engaged in promoting something that’s not true.

This is weird and nonsensical on many levels, though it appeals to those clueless about the law (and the Constitution), and plays to those who just hate Facebook for the sake of hating Facebook (hence the loud audience applause at the end of that clip). To be clear, almost everything Biden says in that clip is wrong or nonsense. Yes, to a larger extent, Facebook and any company is focused on making money, but to claim that they’re only allowing unmoderated political ads because of the money is silly. The issue is a lot more complex and nuanced than that. The larger issue is do you actually want Facebook determining which political ads are “truthful”? Because I’d bet a fair sum of money that if Facebook took the opposite position, and agreed to start carefully moderating all political ads, Joe Biden would sit on the very same stage and spew some nonsense about “how dare Facebook appoint itself the arbiter of truth!” I mean, we already saw exactly that split when Elizabeth Warren both complained when Facebook moderated a political ad and also when it did not.

Second, it’s weird to argue that the platform hosting political ads must have “journalistic responsibility.” Politicians (including Joe Biden) regularly post political ads on TV and elsewhere across the internet spewing all kinds of nonsense that is not true and meet no level of “journalistic responsibility” but we don’t see anyone complaining about those platforms having those ads. No one goes after the local TV affiliate because it runs a bogus political ad. We [correctly!] complain about the campaign running the bogus ad.

Also, it’s an apples and oranges comparison to point to the journalist and say that she can’t do what Facebook does, because a journalist doesn’t host political ads at all. Or if the argument is that a journalist can’t post misleading information, well, that’s obviously false. It happens all the damn time. And in most cases, outside of the very rare cases where such misleading information reaches the very high bar of defamation, it is entirely legal under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution (you know, the document that Biden is running to supposedly protect).

Finally, that’s also why targeting Section 230 is particularly ridiculous here and makes no sense. Biden’s real complaint seems to be with the 1st Amendment and the fact that sometimes politicians are less than fully truthful in their advertising. But that’s kinda on the politicians and has literally nothing at all to do with Section 230. At best if you repealed Section 230 in the belief that it’s allowing Facebook to let in misleading political ads, you’d either get Facebook to stop looking at all of its ads entirely (to avoid any knowledge) in which case nothing will change, or you would get a situation like the one with Twitter where it says it’s getting out of the political ad business entirely, which creates a whole different set of problems.

Neither of those “solutions” solves the problem Biden is really pretending to be mad about: the fact that some politicians on the other side are posting things that he (reasonably!) finds to be misleading. But that’s because, in typical Biden fashion, he’s not even remotely curious enough to understand the root causes of this and how the overall system works, but prefers to go for the easy layup position of “blame Facebook” and “blame this random law that people falsely think allows Facebook to do this.”

Frankly, if politicians saying false and misleading things should be against the law, as Biden implies here, his very statement on CNN itself would be illegal. And, obviously, that’s crazy. Because of the 1st Amendment… which is what Biden appears to be truly upset with.

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Comments on “Biden Spreads False Info By Saying That Taking Away Section 230 Will Make Facebook Liable For Spreading False Info”

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Anonymous Coward says:

"Platforms don’t defame people, PEOPLE defame people" (same flawed argument as "guns don’t kill people").

DISTRIBUTOR liability for defamation is what Section 230 immunizes, and eliminating 230 would definitely make the platforms liable for knowingly allowing defamation to persist (much as Google does now with individuals).

Eliminating 230 would mean that search engines would stop turning a blind eye to people who have been defamed online, since those people could now sue Google, though if they were really ambitious they’d just do it in AUS where they could win as others have in similar cases.

Spreading lies is a separate harm from originating the lie. Biden hit the nail on the head.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually they are not. Courts have held that they don’t have to remove information even a court found defamatory.

Besides, it’s possible to anonymously defame people, which is why we have reputation blackmail from abroad. Section 230 makes any individual’s reputation a sitting duck, and anyone who supports 230 should own that part of their support, just like those who are against abortion should favor locking up the women who order them as well as the doctors who perform them.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

The former employer (I was promoted soon after the incident, then left of my own accord three years later) asked me to obtain proof that I wasn’t being investigated by the police, which I duly did. I blogged extensively about it. The whole thing was weird. It seems to have been about someone trying to prove that what people say about you has a bigger impact on your reputation than your own conduct. I think I won: I don’t go around threatening people or anything like that.

It’s a funny story to share with friends or to use as a cautionary tale but it was damn scary at the time — I thought I was going to lose my job. Thankfully my bosses aren’t stupid and once I got the email from the police to prove I wasn’t being investigated for allegedly extorting someone that was the end of it.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

None at all. I’ve no idea who it is and it may not be Hamilton as he only started repeating that trash long after the original troll posts were made.

I managed to convince most of the carriers that the posts were by a troll since he handily reposted them on various locations using similar handles. He even contacted one person who had taken issue with one of my posts and wound her up a treat. To my great amusement, while giving credence to his posts she had embedded screenshots of his emails to her. I took a screenshot of the entire post and used it as evidence that the poster was a troll. When I pointed out to her that I’d been using it to exonerate myself, she took that blog post down. We’re on better terms now.

The troll seems to have disappeared and I’ve not been troubled by him since. Since ROR (the only holdout) grants the option to post a defence, I did, so every time Hamilton links to it, he links to the proof that the poster was trolling. My reputation is intact and ROR’s took a nosedive for knowingly hosting troll posts. If you can’t rely on them to provide useful information, what good are they? I have pointed this out to Hamilton, who occasionally forgets. It’s a minor nuisance, if that.

Makes a great story, though, and proves my point: it’s your conduct, more than what others say about you, that makes or breaks your reputation.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Odd that the anti-gun lobby sees flaws in the "guns don’t kill people" argument.

Every country BUT the US does not have Section 230 and the internet isn’t broken. Thanks to 230 you get false advertising, fake reviews, and an internet of disinformation because its backbone is immune from liability even if the internet is what spreads the lies that would otherwise have no audience.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

"The Supreme Court has denied Remington Arms Co.’s bid to block a lawsuit filed by families of victims of the Sandy Hook school massacre. The families say Remington should be held liable, as the maker and promoter of the AR-15-style rifle used in the 2012 killings."
https://www.npr.org/2019/11/12/778487920/supreme-court-allows-sandy-hook-families-case-against-remington-to-proceed?t=1573671618185

I guess it is okay to hold Facebook liable then? Since the argument is flawed?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The Court didn’t say…

The Court actually did say—

Tuesday, November 12, 2019 U.S. Supreme Court Order List (pp.2-6)

            CERTIORARI DENIED
 . . .
19-168 REMINGTON ARMS CO., LLC, ET AL. V. SOTO, DONNA L., ET AL.
 . . .
            The petitions for writs of certiorari are denied.

That’s exactly what the court said. And all the court said. Nothing less. Nothing more.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

A) The Google search engine doesn’t distribute anything. You ask it where to find information related to a specific subject, and it tells you. That’s not distribution. That’s asking for directions.

B) Even if it’s granted that Google would be responsible for failing to remove a search result that linked to a defamatory website, such liability would (or should) hinge on a requirement of actual adjudication that the content is defamatory, not simply a complaint that the content is allegedly defamatory. If you’re going to argue that they "knowingly" allow the defamatory content to persist, then how do they "know" something is defamatory unless a judge has said so? Or do you suggest that Google fact-checks each and every website that is claimed to be defamatory?

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

A) The Google search engine doesn’t distribute anything. You ask it where to find information related to a specific subject, and it tells you. That’s not distribution. That’s asking for directions.

Pointing someone to a bathroom wall that has defamation about them is a separate form of defamation. The search engine produces its own results based on other information on the web, but the search results are its own content that can create separate liability (in any country without section 230). An internet without search engines would not amplify every little piece of defamation, and it’s obvious that search engines cause most of the damage from defamation, which people know when they weaponize them. EVERY other country on the planet recognizes this, while the US uses Section 230 to prevent liability.

B) Even if it’s granted that Google would be responsible for failing to remove a search result that linked to a defamatory website, such liability would (or should) hinge on a requirement of actual adjudication that the content is defamatory, not simply a complaint that the content is allegedly defamatory. If you’re going to argue that they "knowingly" allow the defamatory content to persist, then how do they "know" something is defamatory unless a judge has said so? Or do you suggest that Google fact-checks each and every website that is claimed to be defamatory?

That’s not how distributor liability works. Once put on notice of defamatory content, whoever leaves up that content faces liability, just like a bookstore put on notice that a book is defamatory can continue to sell the book but is then endorsing the contents of the book etc.

It’s extremely disingenuous to say search engines do not amplify defamation when it’s clear that they do. If one supports 230, they are supporting the collateral damage it causes to individuals and businesses who are sitting ducks for having their reputations destroyed by a single malicious individual.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Pointing someone to a bathroom wall that has defamation about them is a separate form of defamation."

Do you have any examples of the person pointing to the bathroom wall being held legally liable for the text on it, as you are trying to make happen with search engines?

"Once put on notice of defamatory content, whoever leaves up that content faces liability"

Yes, and most of the companies you’re trying to attack do exactly that. What you’re trying to do is hold them liable for the stuff they know nothing about.

"If one supports 230, they are supporting the collateral damage it causes to individuals and businesses"

Yes, whereas if you oppose it’ you wish to hold people liable for the things that other people did, and of which they have no knowledge. If you weren’t so intent on lying about worst case scenarios, you’re see that this is far worse, for both providers and the supposed victims.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Do you have any examples of the person pointing to the bathroom wall being held legally liable for the text on it, as you are trying to make happen with search engines?

Now now, let’s not be too quick to dismiss this line of thinking, if pointing to something that someone else did/said is the same as doing it then I do believe I’m going to go snag myself a few nobel prizes by pointing to the actions of other people who’ve already earned them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“It’s extremely disingenuous to say search engines do not amplify defamation when it’s clear that they do.”

Now if only we had some form of proof rather than a serial liars word. But instead you’re gonna lose your shit and either threaten to leave forever or threaten to rape someone. You really don’t got much in you bag of trick other than impotent threats bro.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re:

"Platforms don’t defame people, PEOPLE defame people" (same flawed argument as "guns don’t kill people").

Not remotely in the ballpark of reasonable given that a gun’s function is to discharge bullets at velocity and its purpose is to threaten or to actually injure or kill. Platforms just host content.

DISTRIBUTOR liability for defamation is what Section 230 immunizes, and eliminating 230 would definitely make the platforms liable for knowingly allowing defamation to persist (much as Google does now with individuals).

How does Google "know" unless someone advises them? Even then, they’ve got to either take the word of a potential liar or get proof. The burden of proof is on the accuser.

Eliminating 230 would mean that search engines would stop turning a blind eye to people who have been defamed online, since those people could now sue Google, though if they were really ambitious they’d just do it in AUS where they could win as others have in similar cases.

Why is it Google’s job to pay attention to the subjects of defamation? It’s like me suing TD for Hamilton’s lies about me. I’m not going to sue TD, I’m not even going after Hamilton. He’s a liar and nobody takes him seriously. The defamer alone is responsible for defamation. That Aussie case was about someone hitting Google as she couldn’t identify the people who had complained about her conduct towards them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

"…its purpose is to threaten or to actually injure or kill.."

No, that would be the possible intent of the person holding the gun.
They may just want to drill a hole through a piece of paper. Tell me, how do you know what my intent is when I next squeeze a trigger?

Exactly like the internet not spreading lies.

Anonymous Coward says:

America is supposed to support free speech,
section 320 was designed to support free speech on the web ,
many websites would not survive or exist if they had to pay a legal expert
to check is this post ,right,wrong, defamatory, rude, ignorant ,insulting etc
if a politician is concerned because someone is making false statements
he can make his own opinion known or even take legal action
against the person who is insulting him or making telling lie,s .
a website is a platform or a venue where people can debate
and communicate openly and express themselves .
Attacking section 320 is an attack on free speech
and the right of ordinary people to communicate and debate
.
Maybe its not realistic to expect an 76 year old to be an expert on why the internet and social media works .
Someone who maybe just uses maybe just use,s email or twitter

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

"America is supposed to support free speech"

  • USA government is not supposed to interfere with free speech

"section 320 was designed to support free speech on the web"

  • section 230 denies third party liability

"not realistic to expect an 76 year old to be an expert"

  • most good politicians hire knowledgeable staff … and listen to them
That One Guy (profile) says:

Probably shouldn't open that box...

If allowing/hosting’false’ information leaves one liable for it then platforms/channels are going to be sued left and right for hosting political ads(assuming they even do with the added risk), and it would behoove him to remember how many times Trump has cried ‘fake news!’ for anything he doesn’t like and as such how much trouble his argument would pose for the very people hosting him when he made that statement.

Kinda undercuts your argument about how terrible dishonesty and hosting it is when you’re being dishonest to play to gullible/misinformed fools.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Probably shouldn't open that box...

Distributor liability first requires notice so a takedown prevents a lawsuit.

This is how the world worked before Section 230, and how it works everywhere but the United States now. If 230 is necessary for comments sections to exist, how do sites in other countries manage to have them?

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Stop worrying about other countries. Their laws don’t apply to the United States, and U.S. laws don’t apply to them.

Section 230 allows comments sections, in addition to services like Twitter, to exist without facing legal liability for moderation choices. A site that wants to be “family friendly” can’t be held liable if it deletes third party speech that goes against the site’s “mission statement”. A site that allows a much broader range of speech can’t be held liable if it doesn’t delete third party speech that other people find objectionable. The two sites can only be held liable for any speech that the site is responsible for publishing.

Without 230, all that goes out the window. 230 was written with the explicit intent to let sites moderate third party speech as they see fit. 230 going away means one of two things will happen to a given site: It won’t moderate third party speech out of fear that it’ll be sued, or it won’t allow third party speech at all. If you think Twitter sucks now, imagine it without 230 — all the spam, all the “hate speech”, all of it overrunning everything else on the platform to the point where everyone finally leaves it. And that assumes Twitter doesn’t simply shut down instead.

230 is what allows you to post your inanity here. Without it, you’d need to buy your own website and post your speech there. And if you offered a comments section for some reason, without 230, you’d have to allow all speech — even speech you hate/disagree with — or face legal liability for moderating it. I doubt that’s the future you want. But it’s the future you’re apparently working to achieve.

bobob says:

Attempting to hold platforms accountable for search results, users’ posts, etc., will only give a false sense of credibility to false information due to the unrealistic belief that legislation will magically have false or defamatory data purged and that everything will now be credible. It’s much better if people begin to doubt the reliability of what they read.

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