Blaming Social Media And Section 230 For Mass Shootings Is Ridiculous; Stop It
from the that's-now-how-any-of-this-works dept
In the past, we’ve talked about how much of politicians’ obsession with regulating internet companies seems to stem from it being an easy way to deflect attention from their own policy failings. So many aspects of the complaints about social media are really just because social media has shined an extraordinarily bright light on the inability of the government to actually deal with underlying societal issues around mental health, social safety nets, criminal law… that then bubble up elsewhere. And it’s a lot easier for politicians to just point the finger at social media, rather than to admit their own failings.
This past weekend’s mass murder in Buffalo is just the latest example of this. We had already mentioned this, in passing, in our story on how Twitch taking down the live stream likely violated Texas’ social media content moderation law, but NY Governor Kathy Hochul seems to be doing everything possible to deflect any responsibility of the horrific incident, and pointing all the blame at social media.
Even though Twitch apparently took down the livestream in about two minutes, that wasn’t good enough for Hochul, who said that if it wasn’t down in a second, it was a problem:
The governor blasted social media platforms following the shooting, demanding companies be more vigilant in monitoring their content.
“This execution of innocent human beings could be live-streamed on social media platforms and not taken down within a second says to me that there is a responsibility out there,” she said.
She then went on Meet the Press this weekend to continue to deflect any attention from any of this other issues around mental health, law enforcement, etc., all of which are clearly much more central to this issue. But all of those implicate her actual failures. So instead, she focused on the evils of social media. Of course, it was Chuck Todd who brought it up, pointing the finger at Section 230.
CHUCK TODD: Well, let’s talk about holding these internet companies responsible. Obviously, there’s this law on the books that allows the internet to, sort of, escape liability on so many things that, frankly, we, as television broadcasters, cannot escape the same liability. Do you think they should be held responsible for the easy spread of this propaganda?
So, first of all, this entire line of questioning is bullshit. He’s obviously referring to Section 230, but he’s wrong. There is no law that holds TV broadcasters liable for the spread of propaganda. Propaganda is protected under the 1st Amendment, and lots of people are noting that many of the shooter’s ideas were, in fact, mainstreamed not on social media, but by people like Tucker Carlson.
So even if there were no Section 230, there is no cause of action for spreading propaganda.
Hochul, of course, is happy to take the lifeline and use it to blame social media for her state government’s own failings:
GOV. KATHY HOCHUL: I hold them responsible for not monitoring and alerting law enforcement. That’s exactly the issue here, is that it is fomenting. People are sharing these ideas. They’re sharing videos of other attacks. And they’re all copycat. They all want to be the next great white hope that’s going to inspire the next attack. We can’t let that continue. And we know where it’s occurring. It’s not happening in the basement of a KKK meeting anymore where you have a limited number of people who are succumbing to these evil influences. This is happening globally. They’re looking at what happened in New Zealand and what happened in Pittsburgh and what happened in South– they read this. They absorb this. This becomes part of their mentality. And they share it with others through the internet. And that’s the responsibility of the internet and of the individuals who are responsible are the ones who own these companies. And I’m going to be talking to them directly.
Look, lots of us can agree that this kind of speech is troubling, and the ability of these ideas to catch hold speaks poorly to a lot of things. But again, the speech is protected by the 1st Amendment, and you can’t just magically make that disappear. The real issue, again, gets back to things that actually are under Governor Hochul’s mandate: improving mental health care, and improving education to make people less susceptible to this kind of nonsense.
But rather than talking about that, it’s easier to point blame at the internet. Bizarrely, Chuck Todd (after insisting, falsely, in his previous question that TV broadcasters can be held liable for spreading propaganda) then points out that TV commentators can’t in fact be held liable for spreading propaganda, because of this pesky free speech thing.
CHUCK TODD: We also have TV commentators and some political figures that, sort of, appease this right-wing extremism. Sort of, you know, anybody that pushes back, maybe they come after it on speech grounds, freedom of speech or things like this, that it certainly seems as if there is a growing virus on the far right here that is spreading dangerously.
So, now you admit that the 1st Amendment is, indeed, what prevents people or companies from being held liable for propaganda (but you still got your false dig in at the internet). But Hochul then pulls out basically all the ridiculous 1st Amendment tropes, including “I support the 1st Amendment, but…” and “fire in a crowded theater.”
GOV. KATHY HOCHUL: And they need to be held accountable as well. And any government leader that does not condemn this and condemn it today is a coward, and they’re also partially responsible. So let’s just be real honest about the role of elected leaders. And what they need to be doing is calling this out and not coddling this behavior and saying that, “Well, that’s just young people and they’re sharing their ideas.” Yeah, I’ll protect the First Amendment any day of the week. But you don’t protect hate speech. You don’t protect incendiary speech. You’re not allowed to scream “fire” in a crowded theater. There are limitations on speech. And right now, we have seen this run rampant. And as a result, I have ten dead neighbors in this community. And it hurts. And we’re going to do something about it.
Whether you like it or not, hate speech is absolutely protected under the 1st Amendment. And that’s probably for a good reason, because elsewhere we see time and time again how hate speech laws are abused to silence people criticizing the government or the police.
If you want to do something about this, focus on things you actually can do: mental health, education, social safety nets so people don’t feel abandoned. These are the things you’re supposed to be doing as government officials. Helping society. Not blaming speech you don’t like.
And it’s not just Kathy Hochul trying to deflect and point the blame finger elsewhere. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s first instinct was to blame Section 230:
Same with Senator Tim Kaine who blamed… “Big Tech” even though the shooter himself said he was radicalized on 4chan, which I don’t recall being included with the big tech companies in any listing.
Again, all of this is deflection. Big tech is an easy punching bag, even if there is no evidence it has anything to do with anything. And, it ignores that the 1st Amendment protects even speech we dislike.
These politicians have failed us, more broadly, by failing to protect the most vulnerable in society. They’ve failed to put in place the kind of educational resources, mental health care, and societal safety nets to help those who most need it. And, now, when the results of those failures explode like this, they want to blame social media, because it’s a hell of a lot easier than looking at their own failings.