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Section 230: Facts vs. Myths

It’s Deja Vu from 2016: emails alleging corruption and ties to foreign leaders by the Democrat Presidential candidate are in the spotlight. Once again, power players on the left are doing their best to keep the emails hidden from the voting public. And everyone’s talking about Section 230.

After Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, admitted last week to biased censorship. They suppressed the circulation of a New York Post story about the Hunter Biden laptop scandal. This was clearly a legitimate story.

Senator Ted Cruz announced:

“The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday will be voting to subpoena Jack Dorsey to come before the judiciary and testify next Friday and answer questions as to why he’s interfering in this election and why he is censoring the press,” he said.

WSJ on Section 230:

The Wall Street Journal editorial board chimed in:

“Big Tech’s increasingly dishonest and abusive assaults on ideas it dislikes will intensify unless the public comes to see that such manipulation is wrong no matter which side is targeted.”

They give a concise summary of the complex controversy involving Joe and Hunter Biden’s alleged corruption related to Ukraine. And Twitter and Facebook’s censorship of the story:

“The political actions taken Wednesday by Twitter—and to a lesser extent Facebook —went far beyond normal content moderation. Here are the facts: Joe Biden supervised the Obama Administration’s Ukraine policy while his son Hunter sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company called Burisma. The New York Post found copies of emails it says are between a Burisma executive and Hunter, including one in which the executive thanks Hunter for ‘giving an opportunity to meet’ his father,” stated the WSJ editorial board.

What is Section 230:

As everyone’s attention switches to social media companies’ main defense—Section 230—it’s worth a quick refresher course on what this is and why it’s so controversial.

“With Section 230, tech companies get a sweetheart deal that no other industry enjoys: complete exemption from traditional publisher liability in exchange for providing a forum free of political censorship,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO). This came last June, as he pushed to introduce legislation to modify that section. “Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, big tech has failed to hold up its end of the bargain,” he added.

In a nutshell, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 gives website publishers immunity from third-party content. Unlike traditional newspapers, social media platforms cannot be held legally liable for what gets posted on their sites. (Of course, clear violations of law are not allowed). But this came with the agreement that these platforms would remain neutral in political matters.

The upside is this law led to the massive growth of the internet, which has benefited many. The downside is that it concentrated massive control over information into the hands of a few men—social media platform owners. While people on both ends of the political spectrum have complained of censorship, conservative outlets have been most vocal. They have often interviewed former employees of media platforms who saw overt bias against conservative viewpoints. These insiders also speak about bias in the algorithms and company culture.

Recent controversies:

Lately, the issue has been framed as a battle between those who admire Section 230 and those who want to repeal it. But that’s disingenuous. Few in the know want to do away with Section 230, but many want to see it updated to fit today’s circumstances. They demand more transparency from these monopolistic companies about how they make their ‘editorial’ decisions and more balance in applying them.

Sen. Hawley put it this way:

“There’s a growing list of evidence that shows big tech companies making editorial decisions to censor viewpoints they disagree with,” he said in a statement. “Even worse, the entire process is shrouded in secrecy because these companies refuse to make their protocols public.”

Future of Section 230:

Those of us who’ve analyzed media bias closely have seen that the worst, most powerful type of bias is what they don’t tell you. While conservatives generally know about the left’s stories and positions, many on the left draw a blank when we ask their opinions about important stories covered in conservative media. People just don’t know what they don’t know, and that’s dangerous.

What are your thoughts about social media platforms shielding us from information about Presidential candidates days before a historic election? Can Section 230 be reformed?