from the aren't-you-supposed-to-understand-law? dept
Remember when Republicans were against the “Fairness Doctrine”? Apparently, that’s now out the window, so long as they can attack Facebook. As we noted recently, Senator Ted Cruz appears to be pushing for the strangest interpretation of Section 230 around (in direct conflict with (a) what the law says and (b) how the courts have interpreted it) saying that in order to make use of CDA 230’s immunity “good samaritan” clause, internet service providers need to be “neutral.” Again, that’s not what the law says. It’s also an impossible standard, and one that would lead to results that would piss off lots of people. The similarities to the FCC’s concept of the “Fairness Doctrine” are pretty clear, though such a rule on the internet would be an even bigger deal, since the Fairness Doctrine only applied to broadcast TV.
And, it appears that Cruz’s incorrect interpretation is spreading like a virus. Senator Lindsey Graham is now spewing the same nonsense.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a subcommittee chairman on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told MT that he remains concerned about potential bias when it comes to content moderation on social media platforms. ?They enjoy liability protections because they?re neutral platforms. At the end of the day, we?ve got to prove to the American people that these platforms are neutral,? he said. ?You?ve got to have a validating system where the government can come in and validate that this whole system is neutral.?
So much about this is wrong. First, Section 230 of the CDA has never required platforms to be neutral. Indeed, it would be silly to do so because what the hell does “neutral” even mean in this context? Second, claiming that someone needs to “prove” that the platforms are neutral. What does that even mean? How would you prove that anything is “neutral” anyway? Finally, saying that the government has to validate that your internet service is neutral raises a very large number of very serious First Amendment questions. What kind of Senator is not only so wrong about the law, but thinks that the appropriate role of government is to “validate” internet platforms over what kind of speech they allow?
Separately, this is the same Lindsey Graham who just recently was demanding that social media sites do more to takedown content he didn’t like. Now, apparently, he’s up in arms over the fact that the sites took down content he did like. If Graham truly wants websites to “do everything possible to combat” terrorist groups using the internet, then attacking CDA 230 is the worst possible way to do that. CDA 230 gives websites the power to moderate and filter out such content without fear of facing legal liability. In other words, it’s an excellent tool for getting websites to takedown extremist content. To then turn around and insist that sites should lose CDA 230 protections because they also took down some content you like… raises all sorts of First Amendment issues. You’re basically saying websites should only remove the content I dislike, and if they remove content I like I’m going to put their existence at risk. Guess what happens then? Sites will stop moderating entirely, leaving up more of the “bad” content you dislike.
Oh, and back to that whole “fairness doctrine” thing. Guess who is vehemently against it? You guessed right: Lindsey Graham. Opposing the Fairness Doctrine is one of the few issues on his tech campaign platform and a few years back he put out a press release touting his conservative credentials including “barring the use of federal funds to re-instate the Fairness Doctrine” (which was silly anyway, because there was no appetite to re-instate the Fairness Doctrine).
Except, now, as soon as he can pretend to be up in arms over Facebook, Graham seems to jump on the idea of a Fairness Doctrine for the internet. Not only that, but he seems to think it’s already in place (it isn’t) and requires the government to go in and validate platforms over what speech they allow.