Rep. Louie Gohmert Wants To Strip Section 230 Immunity From Social Media Platforms That Aren't 'Neutral'

from the making-everything-'fair'-by-making-it-suck-for-everyone dept

Rep. Louie Gohmert is one of the most technologically inept Congressmen we have the misfortune of being "served" by. Getting to the top of this list isn't easy. The halls of Congress are filled with people who truly don't understand the tech they're attempting to regulate. Nor do they appear to be making any effort to educate themselves. Gohmert, however, seems to believe his position as an elected official gives him tech smarts he actually doesn't have, so he spends a great deal of time embarrassing himself when grilling tech reps during Congressional hearings.

Gohmert was one of the participants in the Social Media Bloodsport Hearings of 2018. Held over the course of several months, the hearings were 75% grandstanding and 20% misunderstanding the issues at hand. Social media services have been hit hard recently for appearing to bury/deplatform right-wing accounts while simultaneously allowing the platforms to be overrun with foreign state-operated bots. It's ugly but the ignorance displayed by Gohmert and others during the hearings was just as galling.

It was at these hearings a new myth about internet platform immunity came into being. Somehow, these lawmakers looked at Section 230 of the CDA and decided it required platforms to be "neutral" to avail themselves of this protection. A Senate hearing in April featured Rep. Ted Cruz demanding to know if Facebook considered itself a "neutral public forum." Mark Zuckerberg said he'd look into it, claiming he wasn't familiar with the "specifics" of the "law [Cruz] was speaking to."

Bad answer. And the bad answer made Cruz look like he'd just played a successful round of "Stump the Tech Magnate." But he had done nothing more than state something not backed by actual law. That should have been the end of it, but people who really wanted to believe Section 230 immunity requires "neutral" moderation used Cruz's ignorance as the starting point for stupid lawsuits almost certainly destined for quick dismissals.

It's one thing for the public to make bad assumptions about federal laws. It's quite another when federal lawmakers do it. Rep. Gohmert, playing to the home crowd [read the replies], has declared he's going to strip immunity from service providers who "use algorithms to hide, promote, or filter user content."

That would be all service providers. Gohmert wants to strip immunity from all platforms solely because he believes in Ted Cruz's ignorant fiction. The bill hasn't been written yet, but the statement issued by Gohmert explains the basis for this incredibly idiotic legislation proposal:

Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google are now among the largest and most powerful companies in the world. More and more people are turning to a social media platform for news than ever before, arguably making these companies more powerful than traditional media outlets. Yet, social media companies enjoy special legal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, protections not shared by other media. Instead of acting like the neutral platforms they claim to be in order obtain their immunity, these companies have turned Section 230 into a license to potentially defraud and defame with impunity.

Section 230 does not require neutrality. It never has. It does not forbid content moderation. It actually encourages good faith efforts to keep platforms free of content they don't want. Twitter and Facebook could remove every right-leaning account on their platforms without losing Section 230 immunity -- which solely shields them from being held liable for content posted by third parties. It does not insulate them from charges of fraud or defamation if, in fact, either of these were committed by the companies, rather than their users.

For Gohmert's proposal to work, he would either need to add the missing "neutrality" component or do away with Section 230 immunity altogether. Both of these are terrible ideas. Neutrality would be impossible to define, much less enforce. And the removal of immunity would mean the end of social media platforms as we know them, as companies will not be willing to be sued for content created by platform users.

Gohmert's disingenuous idiocy doesn't end there.

In one hearing, one of the internet social media executives indicated a desire to be treated like Fox News. Fox News does not have their immunity and this bill will fulfill that unwitting request. Since there still appears to be no sincere effort to stop this disconcerting behavior, it is time for social media companies to be liable for any biased and unethical impropriety of their employees as any other media company. If these companies want to continue to act like a biased medium and publish their own agendas to the detriment of others, they need to be held accountable.

The difference between Fox News and Twitter is Fox News creates the content it publishes. Twitter does not. That's why Twitter has immunity and Fox News doesn't. Maybe some tech exec said something stupid during a stupid hearing filled with chest-beating and misconceptions, but that doesn't make Gohmert's proposal any less moronic.

Make no mistake: the same people agitating for "neutral public forums" are the people who will be deplatformed first if Section 230 immunity is removed. It's already happening while the immunity remains in place. Anyone trafficking in controversy will be shown the door before they can do any damage to the platforms that used to host them. If you want more blanket moderation and faster banning, by all means, gripe about immunity and neutrality. If you actually value the free flow of speech, keep dimwits like Gohmert out of office.

Filed Under: cda 230, content moderation, gohmert, intermediary liability, louis gohmert, neutral platform, neutrality, section 230


Reader Comments

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  1. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 26 Dec 2018 @ 12:06pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Gotta love the false dichotomy here.

    What I'd prefer is a situation that puts copyright back in its proper place, with its proper perspective, rather than the inside-out insanity of the current regime.

    What I'd prefer is for principles of Due Process and the Presumption of Innocence, which are quite uncontroversial in other contexts, to be applied here: that content accused of copyright violation is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

    What I'd prefer is for great power to actually come with an unavoidable great responsibility, rather than bringing with it the power to dodge responsibility, as is all too often the case.

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