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Senator Mark Warner Repeats Senator Ted Cruz's Mythical, Made Up, Incorrect Claims About Section 230

from the not-how-it-works,-senator dept

Senator Mark Warner was supposed to be the "tech savvy" Senator. He's not really showing that. He's been leading the charge to regulate various parts of the internet, which might be fine if he knew what the fuck he was talking about. But, as is made clear in his latest interview with Newsweek, he's extremely confused about the legal underpinnings of the internet. Specifically, he is repeating Senator Ted Cruz's myth that Section 230 was designed to only apply to "neutral" platforms that don't moderate.

Can you explain Section 230?

Section 230 was called the Communications Decency Act in the late '90s, and at that moment in time, there was a decision made that social media companies, and their connections, were going to be viewed as kind of just dumb pipes, not unlike a telco. The platform companies would have no obligation for the content that went over their networks. In the late '90s, that might have made sense. But in 2019, when 65 percent of Americans get some—or all—of their news from Facebook and Google, there is clearly some curation going on.

This is literally the opposite of truth. It is the opposite of what happened and is the opposite of why Section 230 was put in place. As we've discussed over and over again, Section 230 was a direct response to the ruling in Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy, in which Prodigy (an ISP, not a "social network") was deemed liable for content it had not moderated, because it did heavy moderation on its forums in an effort to be "family friendly." The point of Section 230 was to encourage moderation, and to not have internet services be "dumb pipes."

Senator Warner might know this if he just read the law. There's a whole section on how the law is designed to encourage more moderation by the platforms, and then it says directly:

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

That's the law encouraging sites to moderate.

Senator Warner's description is just repeating the myth that Senator Cruz has been stating for over a year. We weren't surprised that other members of Cruz's party were repeating that nonsense, but Warner's party had mostly been making different stupid comments about Section 230, so it's disappointing to see him revisit this myth.

Other parts of the interview are actually good -- and he even brings up that interoperability and the ability to move to a competing service with your data might be a better approach than breaking up the big internet companies. And, on that, he's correct. But if he's premising his decisions regarding 230 on a history that gets the law literally exactly backwards, it's difficult to put much faith in him getting any changes correct.

Filed Under: intermediary liability, mark warner, neutrality, section 230, ted cruz


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  • icon
    murgatroyd (profile), 3 Oct 2019 @ 8:07am

    "Reality - what a concept" seems to be the operative phrase guiding Washington these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 3 Oct 2019 @ 10:15am

    The Pipes

    Now of course Big Dumb Pipes is also something we want from our ISPs.
    Not wanting them to monitor, re-direct, meter or censor our pipes at the ISP level - that is an important thing. And we aren't going to get it without a little government regulation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ben L (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 10:50am

      Re: The Pipes

      Aside from stopping metering and throttling, you can stop the monitoring by encrypting the information that goes through these Big Dumb Pipes, which is already happening to some degree with the move to HTTPS and DOH.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Oct 2019 @ 10:40am

    Some lawmakers apparently think the government should compel privately-owned platforms to host speech it wouldn’t otherwise host. I wonder how they’d feel about that if they were the owners of those platforms. Someone should ask them about that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 11:55am

    regulate internet

    "He's been leading the charge to regulate various parts of the internet, which might be fine...."

    what parts of the internet would be fine to regulate?

    how do you prevent powerful Federal officials like Senator Warner from implementing harmful regulatory rules?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 12:53pm

      Re: regulate internet

      How many people just want the politicians to get the fuck out of our faces?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2019 @ 4:01pm

        Re: Re: regulate internet

        How many people just want the politicians to do the jobs we hired them for, not the ones they are being bribed/lobbied to perform?

        Eliminate all campaign financing, every candidate gets the same package (facebook page, twitter account, etc) and they have to do what they can to attract votes without spending any additional funds... I'm sure they would still have 'volunteers' willing to work for their campaigns, right (I mean not everyone is there just for the freebies, or not).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 12:30am

      Re: regulate internet

      "what parts of the internet would be fine to regulate?"

      The parts that monopolistic corporations tend to abuse when left to their own devices.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 3 Oct 2019 @ 6:38pm

    Unfortunately, most laws are made and remade and mismade by truly stupid and clueless people who only are where they are due to money donated for future favors. (this is what lobbyists are for and why PACs were made legal)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 2:54am

    Oh dear

    Its not a good situation when the people writing and approving law, don't know how to read it (or the history that generated a law).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2019 @ 12:41pm

    Another series of tubes man.

    “A series a pipes”

    A sewer is not a “series of pipes” it’s a collection of treatment facilities that run along a groundswell and”Rant continues forever while school house rock theme plays”

    This guy could dumbed off by taking a tour of youtube while they brag about pwning the libs and showing him how many accounts of people they have saying stuff he likes are on the site lol

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    allengarvin (profile), 4 Oct 2019 @ 1:39pm

    The NYT does have someone that understands 230

    Just let Sarah Jeong proof any article that even mentions 230, before it's published.

    She gets it right: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/opinion/section-230-political-neutrality.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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