from the you-did-what-now? dept
Why does Senator Roger Wicker from Mississippi hate the internet? Wicker, who has a close relationship with big telcos, who have long made it their mission to destroy the open internet, was already a co-sponsor of an awful “Section 230 reform” bill last session, and is back now with what he’s ridiculously calling the “PRO-SPEECH” Act. It stands for “Promoting Rights and Online Speech Protections to Ensure Every Consumer is Heard Act.” But, in reality, it is a blatant (and unconstitutional) attack on free speech.
The bill more or less bans any website from doing any moderation. The key part:
An internet platform may not engage in a practice that does any of the following:
(1) Blocks or otherwise prevents a user or entity from accessing any lawful content, application, service, or device that does not interfere with the internet platform’s functionality or pose a data privacy or data security risk to a user.
(2) Degrades or impairs the access of a user or entity to lawful internet traffic on the basis of content, application, service, or use of a device that does not interfere with the internet platform’s functionality or pose a data privacy or data security risk to a user.
Consider it the all porn and all spam allowed act! Kind of ironic for a Senator who once pushed an unconstitutional ban on selling video games to children. Under this bill, sites couldn’t even stop kids from accessing or playing violent or pornographic video games.
There are two exceptions, both of which are silly. One is for “small internet platforms.” And the other is… wait for it… if you declare yourself a “publisher” then it no longer applies. Yes, that’s right. Senator Wicker is trying to make the ridiculous and nonsensical “publisher/platform” distinction an actual thing, despite the fact that this is blatantly unconstitutional.
Let’s just remind everyone how this works: the 1st Amendment includes both the right for any website hosting content to make editorial decisions about what it will and won’t include, as well as a right of association to say “I don’t want to be associated with that stuff.” In this setup, where a site has to declare itself a platform or a publisher, that effectively means taking away the 1st Amendment rights of a platform and turning into a garbage dump of spam and porn. Or… it has to declare itself a “publisher” at which point it faces liability for everything that shows up.
The end result is that this bill leans into the moderator’s dilemma and creates two types of internet sites: complete garbage dumps of spam/abuse/porn/harassment where no moderation can take place, and Hollywood-backed squeaky clean productions. It wipes out the parts of the internet that most people actually like: the lightly moderated/curated user-generated aspects of social media that enable lots of people to have a voice and to connect with others, without being driven away by spammers, assholes, and abusers.
It also throws in this tidbit to make it clear Wicker doesn’t want social media sites to kick Nazis off their platforms any more:
An internet platform may not take any action against a user or entity based on racial, sexual, religious, political affiliation, or ethnic grounds.
Thing is, discrimination on racial, sexual, religious, and ethnic grounds is already covered under civil rights laws — and they’re protected classes because they’re mostly things inherent to someone, and not choices they make. Your political views and affiliation are different. And, the fact is, there are almost no sites out there (despite what ignorant people are screaming) that do any moderation based on political affiliation. Or, if they do, it’s to literally ban the American Nazi Party. But under Wicker’s bill, you couldn’t ban the American Nazi Party or its members any more.
I wonder why he wants that?
Then there’s the “I’m protecting Parler” part of the bill. It says this would be a presumed method of “unfair competition.”
Any action taken by a larger internet platform that wholly blocks or prohibits an internet platform that competes with the large internet platform (or any affiliate of the large internet platform) from making use of the large internet platform.
So, this would mean that a platform like Parler could violate every policy it wants of companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple, and they would not be allowed to kick it off for any of those policy violations.
There are also onerous transparency requirements based on the false idea that there is a clear set of rules that every platform uses, rather than an ever-changing and evolving set of policies that is constantly dealing with edge cases.
The whole thing is a stupid wishlist of whiny fake conservatives who want to play the victim and claim they’re oppressed for the culture war they’re waging. But the end result would be wiping out all the important and useful parts of the internet, and dividing into two piles: all garbage all the time, or the Disney-fied, locked down part. No one should want that.
Which makes you wonder why Wicker does.