It has been called the most important 26 words in the creation of the Internet as we know it. It’s Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which says that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”. It serves as an immunity clause to protect platforms of free speech from liability and makes possible the enormous success of the giant tech firms in the industry–Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, et al.
But what happens when these firms abuse this protection? An example: In the wake of the January 6 storming of the Capitol, which took place one day after the Democratic Party effectively took control of the Senate, the tech giants moved to begin to silence the voices of those whom the left holds responsible for the “domestic terrorism” of the American right. They began by shutting down the Twitter account of President Donald Trump “for further incitement of violence”.
Think about this. The Iranian mullahs have Twitter accounts as does the North Korean dictator, the Chinese Communist Party, ISIS, etc., but not the President of the U. S., who has 88 million followers.
This is the first step in controlling the major communications platforms and censoring speech not favored by the tech giants and their colleagues on the left. And it’s not coincidental that Google has recently removed Parler from its app store, the only viable competitor of Twitter and one with a more conservative following.
What is to be done? Some say that Section 230 should be repealed, but I think that would be a mistake. We need more platforms for freedom of speech and more competition, but they need to be truly platforms, unedited except for illegal activity such as child pornography, etc. There is no such thing as “hate speech”. If the sites attract unwelcomed nutcases, that will come with the territory. But the tech giants are holding on to their immunity as platforms while editing content and/or censoring or cancelling input, in which case they should be held responsible as publishers in addition to being treated as “state actors” under existing law. They can’t have it both ways.