SILICON VALLEY NEEDS TO LISTEN-NOW
If Silicon Valley is not listening yet, it had better start. The fight for its most cherished prize in federal law is heating up. Fast.
You may remember a few weeks ago when Twitter chose to editorialize the tweets of one of its most prominent users — the President of the United States. Among all the voices of leadership and celebrity on its platform, it cherry-picked this one for “fact-checking.”
That sparked a firestorm and spurred a White House Executive Order aimed at reigning in viewpoint discrimination by tech titans. One of the key ways it would do that is with a review of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
More on that in a moment.
First, it’s important to remember that, while Twitter’s poke was one too many, the executive order was likely brewing for some time. It’s no secret to anyone reading Headline Prayer that Big Tech has exhibited bias for years.
Twitter’s transgressions alone are appalling. An example that still makes me scratch my head in disbelief is when the company would not admit to senators last year that a pro-life quote by Mother Teresa was not hate speech! Twitter also censored a pro-life ad by Marsha Blackburn in her run for Senate, and it blocked a petition supporting Houston pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed in 2014.
That’s the short list. And of course there are examples for most of the big players in tech. For example, looking further back, Facebook “accidentally” suspended former Governor Huckabee’s page in 2012 as he was rallying support for Chick-fil-A. Apple kicked Chuck Colson’s Manhattan Declaration off the app store in 2010. More recently, Google’s YouTube has relentlessly restricted PragerU educational videos on matters like the Ten Commandments, the founding of Israel, and problems with socialism.
Just this week — when the heat is already on — Google reportedly threatened to demonetize The Federalist, a conservative news outlet. Why? This is significant… Google cited remarks left by readers in the site’s comments section as the problem.
After this latest offense, Sen. Ted Cruz whipped off a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai that called it “transparently politically motivated.” He cited that Google had not equally treated filth in the comments sections of numerous left-leaning websites (not to mention YouTube’s).
Cruz added, “This is part of a bigger problem. The culture of free speech in this country is under attack, and Google is helping lead the charge”
And then he jabbed at Google’s “ironic” claims to protection under Section 230.
Enacted in the early days of the internet, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a cornerstone law allowing the development of today’s online ecosystem. It essentially ensures that web users are responsible for their own speech online. In other words, you — not IFA — are responsible for what you post in the comments section below.
Section 230 protects platforms large and small from being sued to death for user engagement — a hallmark of the free and open internet. It also provides legal cover for “Good Samaritan” efforts to remove offensive content.
This liability protection is important, but more and more voices believe it is now being abused by ubiquitous tech giants. Sen. Josh Hawley, for example, has called it a “a sweetheart deal that no other industry enjoys.” Just this week, Hawley, motivated by Trump’s executive order, introduced legislation to alter Section 230 by opening up major platforms to lawsuits for violating their terms of service and promises.
Hawley wants to make sure “bad actors are not given a free pass to censor and silence their opponents.”
The same day, Trump’s Department of Justice released its own robust list of recommendations for alterations to Section 230. Attorney General William Barr says, “These reforms are targeted at platforms to make certain they are appropriately addressing illegal and exploitive content while continuing to preserve a vibrant, open, and competitive internet.”
Keep in mind that leaders on the Left like former Vice President Joe Biden also want to alter Section 230. Biden wants to lift its shield in order to hold Big Tech companies like Facebook accountable for “propagating falsehoods they know to be false.” What would be deemed “falsehoods” by his progressive allies? That is something to think about.
In that light, I recently wrote more on my blog about Section 230 and why we should be careful tinkering with it. Still, something needs to be done, and I am concerned that Silicon Valley is missing this moment. They need to act right now with good faith steps to remedy the very real problem of viewpoint discrimination. If not, following through on reform of Section 230 may well need to be the path forward.
In that case, our leaders will need your prayers for much wisdom to get this pivotal law right.
Aaron Mercer is a Contributing Writer with two decades of experience in Washington, D.C.’s public policy arena and Christian associations. A seasoned strategist, he aids organizations with research, analysis, and writing services, and he reflects on faith, technology, and the public square at FTPolicy.com.
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