Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Josh Hawley's sad Section 230 vendetta

It is always sad when politicians forget why the First Amendment is so special: its provision to the people of expansive opportunities to hold government to account and petition for a better society. It's also normally sad when conservatives line up to support policies advanced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

But Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. is doing both things with his new bill, "Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act." The bill would greatly restrict social media companies from relying on Section 230 of the 1996 enacted Communications Decency Act. Section 230 ensures 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." This means that companies such as Twitter, Google, YouTube, and Facebook are not responsible for what users post on their platforms. But it also means that the companies can provide an expansive space for dialogue, debate, under that most basic of American principles: free speech. And that they can't be buried by a sea of lawsuits for doing so.

Hawley doesn't like that.

His bill would remove Section 230 protections unless companies allow government mandated auditors into their proprietary systems. Oh, and then allowed government to mandate what should be posted, by who, and in what degrees.

Hawley's bill isn't just anathema to a conservative ideology that is supposedly rooted in the empowerment of individuals and free enterprise, it's deeply authoritarian. It would give the government vast new power to regulate a vast speech space used by tens of millions of Americans. In that, Hawley is replicating the policy of those he normally suggests we should avoid: big government Europeans.

More than being a bad bill, this is also just very silly.

Hawley whinges that conservatives don't get enough fair treatment on social media companies. And that's likely true. But he forgets the fact that social media companies source their power in their provision of a service that large numbers of us choose to use. We are not mandated to use these platforms, and we are free to abandon them and set up our own.

Nor, as the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer site proves, for example, is the internet a place where speech must go thru the tech giant gatekeepers. Nor is the effective monopoly position that companies like Google currently hold an excuse. Settled federal law means that in the absence of provable harm to consumers, monopoly corporate power is lawful. Federal judges have recognized that maximal provision of commerce and opportunity serve the interests of a free society.

It takes a lot to make Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Wis. seem like a conservative. But Hawley has done just that. I will enjoy watching this bill die at the hands of our great democracy

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