Free Speech

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
cda, fairness doctrine, section 230, ted cruz

Companies:
facebook



Ted Cruz Demands A Return Of The Fairness Doctrine, Which He Has Mocked In The Past, Due To Misunderstanding CDA 230

from the grandstanding-idiocy dept

Remember the Fairness Doctrine? It was an incredibly silly policy of the FCC from 1949 to 1987 requiring some form of "equal time" to "the other side" of controversial matters of public interest. It's a dumb idea because most issues have a lot more than two sides, and simply pitting two arguments against one another tends to do little to elucidate actual truth -- but does tend to get people to dig in more. However, despite the fact that the fairness doctrine was killed more than 30 years ago, Republicans* regularly claim that it's about to be brought back.

* Our general policy is not to focus on political parties, unless it's a necessary part of the story, and in this case it is. If you look at people freaking out about the supposed return of the fairness doctrine (which is not returning) it is always coming from Republicans, stirring up their base and claiming that Democrats are trying to bring back the fairness doctrine to silence the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys of the world.

But that's why it's so bizarre that Ted Cruz has taken to the pages of Fox News... to incorrectly claim that the fairness doctrine applies to the internet based on his own tortured (i.e. dead wrong) reading of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. We already discussed how wrong Cruz was about CDA 230 in his questions to Mark Zuckerberg (while simultaneously noting how ridiculous Zuck's responses were).

In his Fox News op-ed, Cruz argues that if a platform is "non-neutral" it somehow loses CDA 230 protections:

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) states: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

This is a good provision. It means that, for example, if you run a blogging platform and someone posts a terrorist threat in the comments section, you’re not treated as the person making the threat. Without Section 230, many social media networks could be functionally unable to operate.

In order to be protected by Section 230, companies like Facebook should be “neutral public forums.” On the flip side, they should be considered to be a “publisher or speaker” of user content if they pick and choose what gets published or spoken.

This is Cruz only reading Section (c)(1) of CDA 230, and totally ignoring the part right after it that says:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected

There's plenty of case law that has made it clear that moderating content on your platform doesn't make you liable under CDA 230. The very point of this section was to encourage exactly this kind of moderation. Indeed, this part of the CDA was added directly in response to the infamous Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy case, where Prodigy was found liable for certain posts in part because it moderated other messages.

Now, you could claim that Cruz is not misreading the law -- but rather he's advocating a return to the days of that Stratton Oakmont ruling being law. After all he says "Facebook should be 'neutral public forums.'" But, that's both an impossible standard (what the hell is "neutral" in this context anyway?) and basically calling for a return to the fairness doctrone.

Republicans, who have spent years freaking out about the fairness doctrine should be really pissed off at Cruz for basically demanding not just a return of the fairness doctrine, but demanding it for all online platforms and setting it at an impossible standard.

And, of course, this is the same Cruz who has railed against the fairness doctrine itself in the past.

"You know, the Obama FCC has invoked the Fairness Doctrine a number of times with sort of wistful glances to the past. Nostalgia," he said. "You know if I had suggested years ago that the Obama administration would send government observers into the newsrooms of major media organizations, that claim would have been ridiculed. And yet that is exactly what the FCC did."

Amusingly, this was right after he railed against the Obama FCC for pushing for net neutrality.

So... to sum up Ted Cruz's views on the internet, net neutrality is evil and attack on free speech, but platform "neutrality" is necessary. How does that work? Oh, and the fairness doctrine is censorship, but Facebook needs to engage in a form of the fairness doctrine or face stifling civil liability.

It's almost as if Ted Cruz has no idea what the fuck he's talking about concerning internet regulations, free speech, neutrality and fairness -- but does know that if he hits on certain buzzwords, he's sure to fire up his base.


Reader Comments

The First Word

Re: Re: Re: The INTENT of Congress with CDA was NOT to empower corporations!

You must expand on why and how wrong.

Well, if you insist…

NO LAW in the US has ANY other valid purpose than to serve the interests of We The People.

And the last time I checked, CDA 230 makes it possible for We The People to run and moderate websites and web-based services of all kinds without facing legal liability for anything posted by a third party to those sites/services.

Corporations having total and arbitrary control over the now-dominant speech outlets just simply CANNOT be a valid interpretation.

Dominant or not, corporations—and the people who ultimately control them—do have total and arbitrary control over those outlets for speech. Twitter, Facebook, and their ilk are not public utilities; being booted from Twitter for breaking their rules is no different than being kicked out of someone’s home for yelling about chemtrails. The right to free expression does not guarantee you forced usage of a privately-owned platform, regardless of who owns the platform.

"natural" persons now have a vital First Amendment Right on "platforms"

A person’s First Amendment rights do not extend to forcing a platform into hosting speech. The platform’s owners have every right to decide what speech it will and will not have associated with that platform. (Sidebar: The usage of SovCit lingo might be a clue that the poster is talking out of their ass.)

In order to be protected by Section 230, companies like Facebook should be “neutral public forums.” -- Simply right.

What Mr. SovCit fails to address here is the idea of “neutral public forum”. What does the phrase mean in this regard?

Masnick ALWAYS asserts that Corporation are to be de facto censors, and any "natural" persons can just try to find some tiny outlet on which to rant.

Well…yeah. Again: The First Amendment does not guarantee the access to or usage of a given platform. The government cannot block you from using a platform; the platform’s owners and administrators, on the other hand…

DE FACTO and DE JURE I have Right to comment here while within common law

What you have, Mr. SovCit, is a right to speak your mind. Techdirt admins are under no legal obligation to host your speech, regardless of your assertion of “common law”. If you know of any legal statute that says you can force Techdirt to host your speech, your argument would look a lot better if you could cite it. (SovCit lingo is not a legal statute.)

a business will have to make it truly private with code if don't want me to use it

Now I see the mistake: You confuse "privately-owned" with "private". A privately-owned platform can be both open to the public and capable of “censorship”/moderation that fits with the sociopolitical ideologies of that platform’s owners. A White supremacist forum owned by the Ku Klux Klan, for example, can be open to the public while still retaining its right to delete any posts that insult the concept of White supremacy, the Klan, and White people in general.

…how’s that, did I expand on the wrongness of that post well enough?

—Stephen T. Stone
made the First Word by Ninja

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2018 @ 2:18pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 'incredibly silly'

    Yes, including their comments.

    No, their comments are precisely where they are NOT an information content provider, and instead qualify as an interactive computer service.


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