The Bipartisan Attacks On The Internet Are Easily Understood If You Realize They Just Want To Control Speech Online
from the that's-all-it-is dept
Understanding the “bipartisan” approach to internet regulations over the last couple of years really boils down to “both parties want to control the internet” and twist it to their own advantage. Almost everything you hear about “harms” from the internet are disingenuous nonsense from grandstanding politicians. That’s not to say there aren’t real problems with things on the internet or how it’s structured — but there is almost no realistic exploration of those issues by those in various legislatures. It’s all about grabbing control over the internet. Two recent articles highlight pretty clearly how both Republicans and Democrats are clearly salivating to control speech online for their own benefit — and not for the actual good of society or the internet.
First up, we have The Spectator. To be honest, this publication has been a garbage publication recently, pushing out all sorts of nonsense, but apparently there are still a few people there who can publish something good. Taylor Millard has written a short and to the point article noting, accurately, that so much of the bipartisan attacks on the internet lately are really about one thing: how both parties want to control your speech online. We’ve discussed how the policy plans of Republicans and Democrats often feel at odds, with Republicans complaining about too much moderation, and Democrats complaining about too little, but the truth is slightly more nuanced, and both are really just looking to have control over speech online — control that is simply not allowed under the 1st Amendment.
The Democrats’ attacks on free speech are pretty straightforward:
Congressional Democrats are hoping to enact rules due to their concerns over so-called misinformation and ?harmful content.? Their anger over the 2016 election of Donald Trump and the bogeyman of Russian interference fueled the original push for new regulations. The coronavirus pandemic and 2020 presidential election fallout poured rocket fuel on the ideological pyre, as did the QAnon conspiracy and discussions around alternate Covid treatments, masks and vaccine efficacy.
Vermont congressman Peter Welch promoted a new five-member commission with civil penalty power making sure Big Tech is ?unbiased? and doesn?t promote harmful content. The Democrat used the infamous ?for the children? crusade as reasoning. Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar desires Health and Human Services control over the internet where public health is involved. She believes more lives would be saved if Section 230 protections for Big Tech were removed. New Mexico senator Ben Ray Lujan took it a step further, saying that the spread of misinformation ended up ?fueling distrust in public health officials, promoting conspiracy theories and putting lives at risk.? To paraphrase Frank Herbert: he who controls the information, controls the world.
The Republican side is just slightly more nefarious in that they falsely claim that their efforts are in support of free speech, though as rulings in Texas and Florida have shown, they’re equally as problematic under the 1st Amendment.
Republicans are just as censorious ? but they shroud their urge to regulate Big Tech under the guise of protecting free speech. The Florida and Texas legislatures passed rules requiring large social media companies not to remove users from their platforms if they express dissident viewpoints.
We see this elsewhere too — not just in the states. Nearly all of Josh Hawley’s policy proposals regarding the internet are about controlling how internet companies present speech. And Republicans are just as prone as Democrats to roll out “for the children!” legislation that is designed to simply give government more control over speech.
The second article is by Adam Thierer, and published over at The Hill and makes a very similar point:
The only thing unifying both sides is a desire for greater regulatory control of media. In today?s hyper-partisan world, tech platforms have become just another plaything to be dominated by politics and regulation. When the ends justify the means, principles that transcend the battles of the day ? like property rights, free speech and editorial independence ? become disposable. These are things we take for granted until they?ve been chipped away at and lost.
Is there any way to make both sides happy without undermining the digital economy, which has been dominated globally by American firms for over a quarter century?
That?s unlikely, but it hasn?t stopped lawmakers from introducing a flurry of bills to weaken or eliminate protections afforded by Section 230, which limits liability for platforms that host user-generated content. Implemented in 1996, it has served as the cornerstone of America?s ascendancy in the digital world and helped spur an avalanche of innovation. Gutting it would put all that at risk.
As Thierer rightly notes, this is entirely about attacking free speech and the 1st Amendment, by both parties, in order to control a medium they haven’t been able to control for the past few decades:
Without admitting it, both sides are really at war against the First Amendment, which protects the editorial decisions made by private companies. To be sure, there is problematic content to be found on digital media platforms, and there are some legitimate complaints about overzealous takedown policies and lack of transparent standards. That does not mean there is an easy policy fix to those problems, however. But courts have held repeatedly that the First Amendment protects efforts by private media firms to devise their own approaches. Just last week, a Texas judge blocked a law that sought to limit social media platforms? editorial freedoms. That followed a court in Florida enjoining a similar law this summer.
Critics like to paint large tech companies as nefarious overlords out to destroy civilization. In reality, the problems we see and hear on modern platforms reflect deeper problems in our society. If these companies are to be blamed for anything, it?s making human communication so frictionless that every person now has a soapbox to speak to the world. That?s both a blessing and a curse. With unbounded speech comes many wonders but also many problems.
The battles here are not about making a better internet. Or “protecting children.” It’s very much about each of the political parties wanting control over the key tool that has enabled people to communicate with each other, without having that speech first filtered through an “official” source.