Ron Wyden: Modifying Section 230 Will Give More Censorship Power To Trump; And Lock In Facebook's Dominance
from the exactly dept
We’ve already pointed out that Facebook’s latest moves to say it’s okay to strip away Section 230’s protections are all about giving Facebook more power and harming competitors — and now the author of Section 230, Senator Ron Wyden, has put out quite an op-ed in the Washington Post explaining just how much damage would be done in chipping away at Section 230. In particular, he highlights two key reasons why we shouldn’t do it: (1) It would lock in the most powerful companies like Facebook and Google (even as misguided critics seem to think taking away Section 230 protections will harm them), and (2) It will enable the Trump administration to increase online censorship of marginalized voices.
On the first point, the argument is the one I made regarding Facebook’s new stance, though Wyden expresses it succinctly:
Some have argued that repealing Section 230 would punish Facebook and Google for their failures. That?s simply not true. The biggest tech companies have enough lawyers and lobbyists to survive virtually any regulation Congress can concoct. It?s the start-ups seeking to displace Big Tech that would be hammered by the constant threat of lawsuits.
He notes, as we have in the past, that most of the lobbying to gut 230 is being lead by industries that failed to adapt to the internet, and are now using 230 as a hammer to try to stay relevant.
The argument about speech is equally as important:
I?m certain this administration would use power to regulate speech to punish its enemies and protect its allies. It would threaten Facebook or YouTube for taking down white supremacist content. It would label Black Lives Matter activists as purveyors of hate.
Again, this is exactly what we’ve warned about. Section 230 has created spaces online for the most marginalized to speak out — and they will be the first to be silenced. Indeed, that’s exactly what we’ve already seen post SESTA. The law that was passed in the name of “protecting sex trafficking victims” has actually put sex workers at risk. Wyden points out that the law appears to have done the opposite of what its backers promised:
Backpage was shut down before SESTA even went into effect. And sex workers have been driven to the dark Web or the streets, where sex trafficking has increased dramatically. The most vulnerable group bore the brunt of this law.
And the same is likely for any other attempt to attack 230 as well.
What’s really incredible in all of this is how little those looking to modify or remove 230 seem to even understand 230. They seem to blame all sorts of societal problems on 230, even though all 230 has done is allow people to express themselves. And from there, the complaints against 230 are often contradictory. Some are worried that two much speech is silenced through moderation, while others complain that not enough speech is silenced. But neither is a 230 problem. They are all just representations of the impossibility of pleasing everyone when it comes to moderation policies. But taking away 230 or even modifying it won’t change any of that. All it will do is lead to much greater censorship, and much more power for the biggest internet companies.
As is often the case, it would be nice if others in Congress actually listened to Ron Wyden on this — as he’s been right since the very beginning, and every time people ignore him, they end up looking foolish. Unfortunately, I fear that they will end up looking foolish yet again.