It’s the visible internet’s worst kept secret; you will be more heavily moderated, unlisted from algorithmic recommendations, and even outright banned if your content or comments are not politically in lock-step with what billion-dollar Silicon Valley firms want their user-base to see and hear. Claims critical of feminism, critical race theory, equity, and other subdivisions of “woke” schools of thought policing are met with warnings, strikes, and other privately owned injunctions. For you see, these ideas are so good, compliance must be forced onto you. Debate in the public square is damned, apparently.
Thus, Section 230 is back in the spotlight.
Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan has re-proposed legislation that will, hopefully, better define the allowances and restrictions afforded to social media companies by Section 230. The amended bill is a modified version of the proposal that failed to take off in October of last year. The “Protect Speech Act” is being advocated by the House Judiciary Republicans including Representative Jordan, Tom McClintock, Dan Bishop, Tom Tiffany, Victoria Spartz, Greg Steube, Mike Johnson, Scott Fitzgerald, Darrell Issa, and Michelle Fischbach.
Section 230 is the legislation that ensures that social media sites are not held accountable for the content posted by their users. This protection essentially classifies corporations like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter as platforms and not publishers. A publisher, naturally, being directly responsible for anything posted by them. These companies, however, have indeed acted in various instances (particularly during the 2020 election) as publishers; having tact on warnings, links to preferential sources, and even deleting posts that were not observably in violation of that site’s Terms of Service.
Many commentators and personalities have argued for the repealing of 230 altogether, which would open these sites to litigation and lawsuits, but there is more to it than that. Section 230 protections also apply to the smaller, lesser-known competitors of these Silicon Valley sites. What’s more, these smaller, less authoritarian platforms (minds.com, parler.com, bitchute.com, xephula.com, etc.) lack the moderation and algorithmic capabilities possessed by much larger sites. If their 230 protections were revoked, they would be unable to financially and legally withstand a potential wave of litigation in the same way a site like Facebook or YouTube could. Repealing 230 would, in essence, further monopolize the social media market.
So will this amended bill level the playing field in the world’s public square? That is certainly the hope. If there is perhaps one point of exploitation, it is certainly the bill’s “No Liability For Good Faith Removal” clause, which can certainly be wrongly interpreted in a courtroom.
Like with any law, it is worthless unless it is enforced. Laws that prevent monopolization and censorship are, largely, already on the books. But you’d hardly even know they are there since so little is often done to uphold them. Section 230 is, without a doubt, precisely what users in the US and around the world need, but what 230 needs are to be respected and not ignored.