The GOP Section 230 Strategy Will Benefit Trump and Only Trump

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By now most people will have seen various Republican politicians, including President Trump, lash out at tech giants in one way or another. The attacks stem from a perception that these companies, mostly based in West Coast liberal bastions, are using their power to silence voices on the right. It certainly makes for good political fodder with the conservative base. Conservatives spent decades justifiably frustrated with the traditional mainstream media, but this is very different.

The current GOP strategy of attacking big tech may produce some short-term political gain for President Trump and his allies, but it will come at the cost of a long-run political and economic nightmare for the Republican party.

These days, their favored strategy is targeting a provision of the Communications Decency Act called Section 230. President Trump signed an executive order targeting it last week. 

Some critics on the right see Section 230 as a license to be biased. That is incorrect. It is a license for companies to exercise their protected rights of free speech, association, and property rights. In doing so, Section 230 has empowered companies to leave their websites mostly free and open to those who agree to abide by their terms and conditions.

Section 230 provides third-party liability protection critical to the rise and survival of the Internet companies we know today, from Airbnb to Zoom. With a few exceptions, it means that you are responsible for what you say on Twitter or Facebook or any other website, not the website itself.

In the very early days of the web, before Section 230 became law in 1996, if a website moderated content—by, for example, deleting pornography or spam—the site assumed liability for the thousands of things posted daily. As a result, many sites wouldn’t moderate at all. Or allow comments. This is one of the many reasons a world without 230 looks very different and very grim for conservatives, and they should be careful what they wish for.

Without Section 230, companies would be forced to choose between heavily restricted access and completely open access. In the latter case, content moderators would no longer be able to remove objectionable content like pornography, violence, terrorist propaganda from Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. The Internet would quickly become inundated with such objectionable material. Like it or not, such content is generally protected by the First Amendment. After all, the First Amendment has never been about protecting speech everyone likes. 

Despite what may be legitimate issues of bias in tech companies’ application of their terms and conditions, conservatives must look at the overwhelmingly positive net impact that big tech has had in allowing them to advance their ideas. For example, YouTube would not exist in a world without Section 230. In practice, that means conservative radio host Dennis Prager’s PragerU videos would not have 1 billion-plus collective views. 

Prager’s example perfectly illustrates a broader problem on the right. Despite amassing astronomical numbers of clicks and views—enormous in comparison even to some of the most-watched programs on television news—Prager filed an ill-fated suit against Google, YouTube’s parent company, alleging bias and censorship. The Ninth Circuit tossed the suit in an unanimous 3-0 decision with two GOP-appointed judges affirming the company’s First Amendment rights to determine what content to allow on its platform.

Read the full article at The Bulwark.