Ron Wyden: Modifying Section 230 Will Give More Censorship Power To Trump; And Lock In Facebook's Dominance

from the exactly dept

We've already pointed out that Facebook's latest moves to say it's okay to strip away Section 230's protections are all about giving Facebook more power and harming competitors -- and now the author of Section 230, Senator Ron Wyden, has put out quite an op-ed in the Washington Post explaining just how much damage would be done in chipping away at Section 230. In particular, he highlights two key reasons why we shouldn't do it: (1) It would lock in the most powerful companies like Facebook and Google (even as misguided critics seem to think taking away Section 230 protections will harm them), and (2) It will enable the Trump administration to increase online censorship of marginalized voices.

On the first point, the argument is the one I made regarding Facebook's new stance, though Wyden expresses it succinctly:

Some have argued that repealing Section 230 would punish Facebook and Google for their failures. That’s simply not true. The biggest tech companies have enough lawyers and lobbyists to survive virtually any regulation Congress can concoct. It’s the start-ups seeking to displace Big Tech that would be hammered by the constant threat of lawsuits.

He notes, as we have in the past, that most of the lobbying to gut 230 is being lead by industries that failed to adapt to the internet, and are now using 230 as a hammer to try to stay relevant.

The argument about speech is equally as important:

I’m certain this administration would use power to regulate speech to punish its enemies and protect its allies. It would threaten Facebook or YouTube for taking down white supremacist content. It would label Black Lives Matter activists as purveyors of hate.

Again, this is exactly what we've warned about. Section 230 has created spaces online for the most marginalized to speak out -- and they will be the first to be silenced. Indeed, that's exactly what we've already seen post SESTA. The law that was passed in the name of "protecting sex trafficking victims" has actually put sex workers at risk. Wyden points out that the law appears to have done the opposite of what its backers promised:

Backpage was shut down before SESTA even went into effect. And sex workers have been driven to the dark Web or the streets, where sex trafficking has increased dramatically. The most vulnerable group bore the brunt of this law.

And the same is likely for any other attempt to attack 230 as well.

What's really incredible in all of this is how little those looking to modify or remove 230 seem to even understand 230. They seem to blame all sorts of societal problems on 230, even though all 230 has done is allow people to express themselves. And from there, the complaints against 230 are often contradictory. Some are worried that two much speech is silenced through moderation, while others complain that not enough speech is silenced. But neither is a 230 problem. They are all just representations of the impossibility of pleasing everyone when it comes to moderation policies. But taking away 230 or even modifying it won't change any of that. All it will do is lead to much greater censorship, and much more power for the biggest internet companies.

As is often the case, it would be nice if others in Congress actually listened to Ron Wyden on this -- as he's been right since the very beginning, and every time people ignore him, they end up looking foolish. Unfortunately, I fear that they will end up looking foolish yet again.

Filed Under: censorship, competition, free speech, ron wyden, section 230
Companies: facebook


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2020 @ 3:57am

    By making anyone a sitting duck for retaliatory defamation, Section 230 promotes censorship of whistleblowers rather than their speaking up.

    A company can pay a Russian $1,000 to defame a whistleblower without it ever being traced back to them. Lawyers can do the same.

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

  • identicon
    cpt kangarooski, 19 Feb 2020 @ 5:20am

    Minor typo

    Mike, you have a "two" instead of a "too" in the next to last paragraph.

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

  • icon
    techboycorp (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 5:52am

    Keeping 230 = Mission critical

    Typos aside, what I beleive (sic) our fearless leader is trying to share with us is the existential importance of 230 for many, if not most, of the regulars hear (sic)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2020 @ 6:26am

    Maybe it comes down to this; these politicians do not want every day joes to have such a powerful voice on the internet when they have to drop $Millions to get a voice in mainstream media.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2020 @ 10:50am

      Re:

      "they have to drop $Millions to get a voice in mainstream media"
      Those press releases are expensive aren't they.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 11:08am

    When reality refutes you, break out the straw

    What's really incredible in all of this is how little those looking to modify or remove 230 seem to even understand 230. They seem to blame all sorts of societal problems on 230, even though all 230 has done is allow people to express themselves. And from there, the complaints against 230 are often contradictory.

    'It is difficult to get a politician to understand something, when their argument depends on their lack of understanding, real or feigned.'

    Given this is hardly a new thing I suspect that most of those attacking 230 understand it quite well from having it explained time and time again, they just don't care.

    Whether they're using it to score cheap PR from the gullible, attacking companies they don't like or a combination of the two going after the actual law and addressing the glaring flaws in their arguments would be counter-productive, so they stick with beating up strawmen and fictional scenarios with only a passing resemblance to reality.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 11:21am

    Facebook

    LEAVE FB out of this, make something better, that Meets YOUR requirements, and Shut up.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 11:22am

      Re: Facebook

      How many other nations have created their OWN social site so that they can monitor the public???
      CHINA?? PArts of the middle east? India? and probably a few others..

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2020 @ 5:24pm

    Oh, okay. More government power is bad now. But not 4 years ago, when it was totally awesome. lulz

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2020 @ 8:57pm

      Re:

      Wut?

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 20 Feb 2020 @ 12:46am

      Re:

      Those strawmen in your head sure sound dumb.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 20 Feb 2020 @ 12:04pm

      Re:

      Problem here is that 9/11 is every year..
      And the Death of 3000? US people has given us a 100,000+ innocent bystanders killed.
      And even after 6 months and most of the combatants Jumped over the borders and those left asked for PEACE, we kept spending money..
      And this nation did not declare war(I dont think) as that would give the People and the politicians Certain rights to question things. NO martial law to restrict things..

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

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