The State Of The World, And Why We Need Section 230
from the don't-do-what-putin-wants dept
I have heard rumors from multiple quarters that President Biden might mention Section 230 in tonight’s State of the Union speech, and I cannot think of any reason he should, unless it is to venerate it. Because it is only through the existence of Section 230 that we, or the world, stand a chance against the threats we face, especially right now.
In any crisis there is always the impetus to use the moment to advance one’s position and claim how what is happening illustrates how everything you’ve been arguing for has been right all along. But sometimes the correctness of that position is exactly what the moment is showing. And such is the case right now.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is providing testament to the critical importance of free speech, including online free speech, and the legal constructs that enable it. Dangerous people like Putin depend on silence to wreak their destruction so that their actions can proceed undetected and undeterred by dissent. As we see Putin demand his own people be disconnected from the Internet, and engage in tactics designed to disconnect everyone else, this is why: because free discourse is a powerful defense against tyrants, and it is one he does not want to confront.
People always need to talk to each other, and sometimes their very survival, let alone the future political stability of their nation, depends on being able to share ideas and information. The Internet is an amazing tool that enables such an exchange of expression, to a degree that is without precedent or substitute. It, and the Section 230 statute that enables it to be this fantastic global tool for keeping people connected, is a tremendous gift we years ago gave to our future selves, and one we would today be infinitely poorer without. This war is but one example of how much so.
Which is not to say that everything is perfect with the Internet and all the ways people use it. We have never before lived in a time when all people everywhere could be connected. But there is no simple solution to any of the hard challenges our new digitally-interconnected life has revealed. We should not pretend there is, and we certainly should not delude ourselves into believing that Section 230 is some low-hanging fruit that if plucked would miraculously fix all our problems without creating countless more, some of them much worse.
Because it would be doing a tyrant like Putin’s bidding to take any step that would end up crippling the ability to speak and exchange information online, and to take such stark, consequential action that would affect all speakers everywhere simply because some have used their speech rights poorly. When people abuse power, speech is what gives those they would hurt the power to stand against them. And the Internet is what allows us all to hear them. Yet every time lawmakers flirt with repealing Section 230, routing around Section 230, or even “reforming” Section 230, that’s the fate that they invite: a world without the Internet, and without this critically important way for people to stay connected with each other at a time when they most need to.
Every time we glibly try to mess with this essential statutory protection Internet services depend on to provide the services speakers around the world depend on, we threaten to destroy the very thing that evens our odds against totalitarian danger. The absurdity of this regulatory call to harm Section 230, and therefore the Internet, and therefore the world, should therefore be apparent. At a time when we most need to defend our principles and our friends, it makes absolutely no sense to disarm ourselves and take away the world’s best weapon against the threats we all face. The Internet lets people speak, and there is nothing to be gained by ever making it so they can’t – but especially not now. It is no time to do anything to curtail speech and leave the people desperately calling for the world’s help as isolated as their attackers want them to be.