Republican's 'Big Tech Accountability' Platform Calls For Both More And Less Moderation, And A 'Not Fairness Doctrine' Fairness Doctrine

from the all-over-the-map dept

It’s become quite clear over the past few years that the Republicans’ platform these days is “punish those who disagree with us,” or, in the shorter vernacular: “cry moar, libs.” This becomes blatantly clear as you look at the newly released “Big Tech Accountability Platform” that the Republicans in the House have released (coming from the ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers). The platform actually starts out making some amount of sense, but note that it will ignore all of that within a single page. The principles laid out are actually good ones — if the plan actually followed them (which it does not):

1. We will protect free speech: Republicans worked hard to repeal the Federal Communications Commission?s Fairness Doctrine and we will not advocate for a new one.

2. We will be mindful of small businesses and entrepreneurship: Any policy we pursue will balance these essential interests to preserve competition.

3. We will promote American tech leadership and innovation: We will continue to promote American global leadership while working to address issues here at home.

You could build a good platform around those pointers. But, this is not that. On the very next page, it lists out its legislative “concepts” for Section 230 reform, which quickly show how things go off the rails.

Legislative Concept 1: Limit the Right of Exclusion

a. Define Big Tech companies as places of public accommodation and prohibit discrimination based on political affiliation and/or viewpoint.

b. Alternatively, define Big Tech companies as places of public accommodation and limit liability protections to content moderation processes that provide a measure of due process to users.

So, uh, remember that whole thing about respecting free speech and not bringing back the fairness doctrine? This legislative concept is literally bringing back the fairness doctrine. It’s also unconstitutional as it attacks the 1st Amendment rights of companies not to be compelled to host speech they don’t want to host.

Perhaps even more incredible is that while the first legislative concept is basically “moderate less,” the second legislative concept is “moderate more”!

Legislative Concept 2: Require Reasonable Moderation Practices

a. Require Big Tech companies to implement and maintain reasonable moderation practices to address illegal drug sales; child exploitation, including child pornography and trafficking; targeted harassment or bullying of users under the age of 18; terrorism; counterfeit products and materials sales; and all other illegal content on their platforms.

b. Failure to implement and maintain such reasonable moderation practices is a violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act.

c. Such companies may be liable for content decisions related to content included above but may assert liability protections if they implement and maintain reasonable moderation practices.

This shows how totally unprincipled and ignorant the Republicans are on this topic. It’s kind of the standard response of those who don’t even understand the basics of content moderation. The assumption is always that there’s some perfect level of moderation — less moderation of speech we like, and more moderation of speech we dislike. But that assumes everyone agrees on which speech is liked and which speech is not. And that’s not how any of this works.

This isn’t a Goldilocks fairy tale, in which some moderation is too much, and some moderation is too little, and you can just turn the dials and find the kind of moderation that is “just right.” And legislative proposals that pretend otherwise only show their complete disconnect from reality.

And they’re not done yet.

Legislative Concept 3: Limit Liability to Protected Speech

a. Modify Section 230 to only provide liability protection for moderation of speech that is not protected by the First Amendment or specifically listed in the statute.

Uh, yikes? This might depend on what’s “listed in the statute,” but already listing types of speech that get immunity and that do not would raise serious 1st Amendment issues. But beyond that, it’s not even clear what this means? If it means that 1st Amendment protected speech no longer gets 230 protections then, um, won’t sites be much, much quicker to pull down all sorts of content? This would mean no 230 protections over abuse, harassment, hate speech, etc. Under such a proposal, you’d think that Republicans spreading disinformation would be at serious risk of having all their accounts banned. I know that the Democrats might like this, but it seems like a bizarre thing for Republicans to suggest.

Legislative Concept 4: Remove Liability Protections

a. Remove liability protection under Section 230 for content moderation decisions made by Big Tech companies that discriminate based on political affiliation or

viewpoint.

We’ve been over this before. It would violate the 1st Amendment and create compelled speech. Why do no politicians seem to understand this?

Legislative Concept 5: Require Appeals Processes

a. Require Big Tech companies to implement and maintain reasonable and userfriendly appeals processes for users to challenge content moderation decisions on constitutionally protected speech as well as decisions about suspending or deplatforming users. The appeals process must clearly explain the company?s content moderation policies and identify the specific provision(s) the content or user violated and why.

Why? Why is Congress interfering in the ways that private companies run their business? Most companies (and all large companies) do have an appeals process already. But mostly all these kinds of proposals do is serve to make it a lot more costly for websites to suspend bad actors. It’s like an “all trolls get to troll” act, and often is used to test the boundaries of what people can get away with. It’s a perfect tool for bad actors.

Legislative Concept 6: Carve Out Big Tech Companies from Section 230

a. Carve out Big Tech companies and/or only those that are specifically engaged in certain activities, such as hosting social media platforms and app stores, from Section 230 liability protections while retaining current liability protections for all new entrants and small companies.

b. Repeal Section 230 protections for companies engaged in targeted behavioral advertising.

It’s unclear how either of these ideas does anything even remotely useful. I mean, you could carve big companies out of 230 and they’d survive, but all it would likely do is lead to a lot of wasteful litigation. It would also almost certainly lead the companies to be a lot more aggressive in taking down content, and would then rely on the 1st Amendment to protect those decisions. As for connecting 230 to advertising practices, we’ve seen a few bills that try to do that and no one has ever explained what useful thing that does — other than basically attack one particular business model.

Nearly every one of these proposals doesn’t seem to have any principled argument behind it. There’s no policy rationale at all. It’s entirely “big tech is bad, big tech likes 230, let’s take 230 away from big tech.” That’s not leading. That’s regulating based on perceived grievances.

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Comments on “Republican's 'Big Tech Accountability' Platform Calls For Both More And Less Moderation, And A 'Not Fairness Doctrine' Fairness Doctrine”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Those proposals could be read as social media can be sued if it moderates, and sued if it doesn’t. While the Big sites may well survive until the law is sorted out, small sites will vanish from the Internet. A one person mastodon instance cannot afford to get a case dismissed, never mind fight it.

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Koby (profile) says:

You Know It's Good When Maz Panicks

So, uh, remember that whole thing about respecting free speech and not bringing back the fairness doctrine? This legislative concept is literally bringing back the fairness doctrine.

The fairness doctrine was applied to publishers, not platforms, which is why it was wrong. The public wants it applied to platforms, and not publishers. If you build an online version of a town square, then it’s effectively a public property.

This isn’t a Goldilocks fairy tale, in which some moderation is too much, and some moderation is too little

The public wants more moderation on certain topics, such as reducing pornography or child exploitation. But they want less on political topics, such as banning someone simply for supporting a certain policy decision.

This shows how totally unprincipled and ignorant the Republicans are on this topic.

The principle is to target moderation where it belongs. Allow free speech of ideas to flourish in virtual public forums, while cutting out illegal behavior. Some people have a problem with making these sorts of value judgements, but a lot of us don’t.

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

Re: You Know It's Good When Maz Panicks

When did facebook or twitter or whatever social network become an ‘online version of a town square’. A town square, if I’m not mistaken, is a publicly accessible space, I’m guessing not owned by a private entity.

Facebook, and twitter, etc, are more like a ginormous privately owned warehouse that can house millions of people who in turn get an opportunity to speak in the warehouse. And if someone is violating the ‘warehouse terms of service’ then they can get booted out, or have their microphone taken away. Maybe they can find another warehouse, or if not…they can go to a public town square and express themselves there. Oh, and even if they aren’t violating the ‘warehouse terms of service’ they can still be kicked out, because you know what, they don’t own the warehouse!

To pretend people are getting moderated due to supporting a certain policy decision is absurd. They are being moderated for posting racist content, for posting illegal content, for posting hate speech, for planning insurrections. Not just ‘disagreeing’ or ‘agreeing’ with a political decision.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: You Know It's Good When Maz Panicks

The fairness doctrine was applied to publishers, not platforms, which is why it was wrong. The public wants it applied to platforms, and not publishers. If you build an online version of a town square, then it’s effectively a public property.

Uh, no. Nearly every study on this finds people want MORE morederation, not less. And, no, it is not "effectively a public property."

Koby, this has been explained to you over and over again. Why do you keep lying?

But they want less on political topics, such as banning someone simply for supporting a certain policy decision.

Again, the data says you’re wrong. Also, no one is being banned "simply for supporting a certain policy decision."

The principle is to target moderation where it belongs

No, the principle is "stop sites from moderating us when we spew blatant disinformation." Considering you regularly spew disinformation it doesn’t surprise me that you’d lie about this too.

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Koby (profile) says:

Re: Re: You Know It's Good When Maz Panicks

A public property is one owned by the gov’t.. It’s not effectively a public property until after the republicans in their everlasting disrespect for private property effectively expropriate it, then it will be "effectively a public property"

In recent history, democrats strongly considered reclassifying ISPs as a utility under common carrier rules. Republicans are simply considering the next step: reclassifying internet platforms as a common carrier. Utilities can be privately owned, and privately maintained, but also a public good which is subject to government regulation and mandates. I think both sides are starting to agree on the general principle.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: You Know It's Good When Maz Panicks

The democrats will put themselves out there to stand up for what they think is right, but only if whats more liberal happens to be whats right. The republicans will stand for whatever they think is easiest and helps them win, right or wrong, liberal or conservative, they don’t give a shit but there is no one will put themselves out there to stand up for whats right on the conservative side.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: You Know It's Good When Maz Panicks

Content hosts are not a utility. Your connection to the internet, however, is.

In private, do you guys admit to each other what a load of bs your statements are, or do you just turn it off when discussing your desires? Or do you all just stay in character full time?

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Utilities can be privately owned, and privately maintained, but also a public good which is subject to government regulation and mandates.

When did Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and their smaller brethren all become public utilities? And if they aren’t, for what reason should they become public utilities other than “they big”?

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: You Know It's Good When Maz Panicks

In recent history, democrats strongly considered reclassifying ISPs as a utility under common carrier rules.

This is not accurate. You’ve been lied to.

Republicans are simply considering the next step: reclassifying internet platforms as a common carrier.

This is a lie. You are lying.

That is not the next step. Because net neutrality rules were not what you claimed them to be.

Also a utility is not whatever you want it to be. It has to be a commodity service. Broadband is a commodity service. Social media is not. They are not interchangeable.

Why are you always so bad at this Koby.

You should recognize that the people you seem to get your information from are lying to you and you are a complete sucker for repeating it.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: You Know It's Good When Maz Panicks

"In recent history, democrats strongly considered reclassifying ISPs as a utility under common carrier rules. Republicans are simply considering the next step: reclassifying internet platforms as a common carrier"

…and people who don’t spend their days being disingenuous morons know the fundamental differences between the two that make them laughable. You’re basically saying that since ISPs are to be classed as freeways, so should a gas station.

"Utilities can be privately owned, and privately maintained"

A website is not a utility – and cannot for reasons that are obvious to people not insistent on lying about the facts.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: You Know It's Good When Maz Panicks

"But they want less on political topics, such as banning someone simply for supporting a certain policy decision."

Koby, has no one informed you that there will always be someone to correct your assertion to what it really refers to; "banning someone for being a racist supporting Jim Crow" .

Because no one, ever, gets banned for "supporting policy decisions". They get banned from talking about "black folks being put back in their places" and "mexicans shouldn’t vote anyway".

And you know this damn well, Koby, it’s just that you keep trying to desperately weasel out of the fact that your arguments revolve completely around you wanting your Stormfront friends to not get booted out of facebook and twitter.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: You Know It's Good When Maz Panicks

"Because no one, ever, gets banned for "supporting policy decisions". "

Well, not strictly true. While this doesn’t really happen on mainstream social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, it happens all the time in right-wing echo chambers. Just go into one of them and suggest that Biden is doing a good job with vaccine rollouts, for instance, and see how long your account lasts. It won’t be long.

Anonymous Coward says:

Concept 4 could be used by antivaxxers or extremists to bring legal actions against social media services

You can’t block me just because I’m a member of group x
post conspiracy theory’s about Bill Gates or post threats against minoritys
The reason the USA is so successful in the area of tech
is section 230 and the 1st amendment protects startups
against random lawsuits
This bill just brings extra legal costs on social media company’s
and is like a gift to trolls

Anonymous Coward says:

"Chicken wire is unfair says foxes!"

Whenever a politician talks about media regulation remember exactly what they are doing – weakening checks on their own power. Any proposals should be regarded with such suspicion that starting to draw a weapon is the appropriate response because you never know what the immoral bastard with no regards for human rights will do next.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'We support speech, specifically only OUR speech.'

Or in tl;dr format: ‘Stop showing us the door just because we keep shitting on the floor!’

a. Modify Section 230 to only provide liability protection for moderation of speech that is not protected by the First Amendment or specifically listed in the statute.

It’s important to point out anytime someone tries the ‘protected speech’ trick that all sorts of downright delightful content is legally protected speech.

Rampant racism, blatant sexism, discussions about how gay people are abominations and deserve death or torture until they ‘convert’, anti-vaccine screeds about how those nefarious needles will give you a worse fate than death in the form of autism, someone chiming in to point out that the jews absolutely got what they deserved in WW2 and still have it coming and the war to preserve slavery was won by the wrong side since those slavers had the right idea about the blacks, all of that is legal speech, and as such when someone tries to argue that sites should be required to host all legal content that is what they are supporting and that is what they should be forced to defend.

Speaking of tricks…

a. Require Big Tech companies to implement and maintain reasonable moderation practices to address illegal drug sales; child exploitation, including child pornography and trafficking; targeted harassment or bullying of users under the age of 18; terrorism; counterfeit products and materials sales; and all other illegal content on their platforms.

… This is nothing but empty hand-waving, providing the illusion of doing something while at the same time presenting a dishonest picture of the platforms and what they do and do not do, because the platforms they are whining about are already doing this. None of them are going to knowingly host illegal content and are likely to respond in short order once notified of it, so this is little different than mandating that online platforms make use of computers.

And on the other side of that coin…

a. Remove liability protection under Section 230 for content moderation decisions made by Big Tech companies that discriminate based on political affiliation or viewpoint.

Political affiliation is not a protected class, but even if it was I’d be rather surprised if outside of the cesspits showing someone the door for being belonging to the ‘wrong’ party was something that actually occurred in any real sense, such that I suspect this is yet another case of assholes trying to claim that being an asshole is just part of their political affiliation/viewpoint and therefore beyond reproach or criticism.

Blatantly unconstitutional, grossly dishonest and with a dash of hypocrisy to boot. For all that things may change it would seem those attacking 230 are still using the same script as they have been this entire time, you’d think by now someone would have come up with an honest argument but I guess not.

crade (profile) says:

Re: 'We support speech, specifically only OUR speech.'

To be honest.. The only thing they really stand for is keeping non republicans from having influence at any cost..

Pretending earned success by tech companies is somehow worse than companies that use lobbying as their main revenue tool,
Pretending companies shouldn’t be able to make their own decisions about whether it’s good or bad for the company to become involved in politics but only when the company disagrees with them,
Pretending there is a problem with illegitimate votes in the hopes of keeping power with ever shrinking support from the people

All that crap is pretend, no honestly one believes any of that crap. They aren’t even trying for a real platform anymore, their platform just boils to "it’s us or them"

sumgai (profile) says:

The first problem here is proclaiming that the Republicans have a platform at all. As crade noted, slightly above, that’s an oxymoron right there. But I’ll go one further – all they have is a loose cohesion of personal agendas, centering around #45’s personal agenda for America. Need I remind anyone that this means returning our country to the post-WWII era, or even earlier.

If I were in charge at Wharton Business School, I’d be so embarrassed for having to admit that this joker was given one of our sheepskins that I’d rescind it, post haste.

sumgai (profile) says:

We’ve been over this before. It would violate the 1st Amendment and create compelled speech. Why do no politicians seem to understand this?

Perhaps because they’re paid to not understand it? According to this article: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/wall-street-gave-dollar435-million-to-gop-lawmakers-who-voted-to-overturn-the-presidential-election/ar-BB1fIUFj?li=BBnb7Kz, those congresspersons who voted to overturn the popular and electoral elections were the beneficiaries of the Financial Sector’s largesse, to the tune of $43+ million bucks. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy scarfed up more than 10% of that, at $4.8 million over the last two years. And so on and so forth…. (Amazingly enough, the House took the bulk of that money, the Senate didn’t fare so well. Go figure.)

I’d say that the Supreme Court should be laughing up their collective sleeve right about now, as that article shows the direct result of their Citizens United decision, back in 2010.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s unclear how either of these ideas does anything even remotely useful.

I entered the first of those into Google Translate:

(Detected Language: Realpolitik)

Carve out Big Tech companies and/or only those that are specifically engaged in certain activities, such as hosting social media platforms and app stores, from Section 230 liability protections while retaining current liability protections for all new entrants and small companies.

(Translation to: talking point)

shush, you. You aren’t going to be affected. Pay no attention to the legislation behind the committee doors.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bloof (profile) says:

There is no scenario where the right will be happy with receiving equal treatment, not while their entire worldview is built around the notion that other people being equal to them is robbing them of their rights somehow, the same attitude that saw them fight against women’s rights, civil rights and LGBQT+ rights. They also know receiving equal treatment online would actually be a bad thing for most of their louder voices, who absolutely benefit from special treatment on social media and youtube, with a continual stream of rule violations and harassment met with shrugs or the occasional slap on the wrist if the wider world notices.

They don’t want moderation, they want the ability to moderate others and have the special treatment they receive from platforms like Facebook written into law. Right wing politicians don’t care if they burn the internet down to get it because they know they the sh*tshow that kicked off 2021 has made it so much harder for social media platforms to pretend there is no problem with the behaviour of the right on their platform and tighter moderation is going to make it so much harder for them to create another Qanon or gamergate generation of disaffected idiots with heads filled with ill informed grievances that they can weaponise to replace the babyboomers who’re dying as a result of their policies.

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nasch (profile) says:

1st amendment

If it means that 1st Amendment protected speech no longer gets 230 protections then, um, won’t sites be much, much quicker to pull down all sorts of content? This would mean no 230 protections over abuse, harassment, hate speech, etc.

The other way around I think. It means if a platform elects to moderate speech that is not protected by the first amendment, they get to keep their 230 protections. If they moderate speech that is protected by the 1st, they lose those protections. Which is just an awful idea.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: 1st amendment

One that does leave open an obvious question and way to stick their feet to the fire however in the form of pointing out examples of abhorrent but perfectly legal speech and insisting that they either defend forcing platforms to leave such content alone or admit that platforms are indeed justified in removing ‘some’ legally protected speech, as their response will be most telling.

fairuse (profile) says:

It is the nature of politics to ruin fun stuff

I mean that. All of the so called social media platforms were fun before politicians jumped in and started their Us versus Them crap. All parties are taking money from "Big Tech" and making noise like they know something. The problem? There is only one problem – platforms did not ban elected officials before they figured out how to game the platforms.

Here we are fussing over nonsense statements made by people paid to say nonsense.

Sorry about the rant.

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