If you are like most Americans, you do not stay abreast of the multitude of statutes and regulations that rule the nation you call home. Every year, there are laws that are passed, or changed, that seemingly have little effect on your daily life. For the most part, you do not even hear these changes. However, you have probably heard about a formerly obscure piece of legislation called Section 230.
You may have heard “Section 230” on the news, read about it in an article, or even saw it in a tweet from President Trump. This week, the president said that Section 230 being left intact was the reason he vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act (Not to be confused with the Coronavirus Relief Act or attached legislation which he has not yet vetoed or signed). Not signing the NDAA was no small decision, as failing to sign it has the potential to place national security in limbo. However, most Americans, many of whom are retweeting and supporting the decision, have not really considered the implications of a repeal, because most of us know very little about it.
What is Section 230 anyway?
Section 230 as described by Forbes, “provides immunity to social media companies like Facebook and Twitter against being sued over the content on their site. This allows them to operate and flourish without needing to moderate content.”
The actual text of the legislation reads, “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.”
In essence, the legislation allows a platform to operate without fear of being sued for content on its site. This protection enables Google to not be sued over the contents of its searches, Amazon to publish reviews that product sellers may find damaging, and Yelp to let you voice your opinion of the hamburger that made you sick without the local burger joint suing Yelp over the loss of business your review brought them.
Both sides seem to want Section 230 repealed so that they can hold social media giants accountable for stopping speech they liked and allowing speech they didn’t.
Through Section 230, internet speech is allowed to take place without litigious reprisal. Section 230 is what enables you to place your opinion on the internet. Section 230 is what makes you, the individual, responsible for your speech, not the host site. At first glance it seems like a good law.
So, who is attacking Section 230, and why?
In one of the unifying stories of the year, both Republicans and Democrats have fired shots at Section 230, but for different reasons. Some Democrats and leftists have complained that social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have not done enough to eliminate fake news and false stories on their platforms. Meanwhile some Republicans have complained that those same platforms have censored conservative speech.
Both sides seem to want Section 230 repealed so that they can hold social media giants accountable for stopping speech they liked and allowing speech they didn’t. This seems convenient, but it also seems to fly in the face of free speech and private property.
Why is repealing Section 230 a bad idea?
Reforming Section 230 is not necessarily a bad idea, and is a workable solution. Former Congressman Rick White described such possibilities in a recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed.
A repeal could be necessary to create fairness in the way that sites like Google, Facebook, and Twitter handle information. If they are going to expect the freedom of simply being a platform, they must ensure that they are not wading into the conversation for the advantage of any entity or their own political leanings. However, while reform may be acceptable a total repeal could be disastrous.
First, repealing Section 230 flies in the face of private property. Any company has the right to censor material on its own platform. If the public does not like a company’s policies, they are free to move to a new platform or even create their own. These free market principles are the basis of how our society operates.
Secondly, repealing Section 230 flies in the face of free speech. Just as a company has a right to censor material on its own property, they should also have the right to allow speech on their platform without being responsible for the possibility of offense. In the event speech is actually calling for violence, or in some other way illegal, it should be the speaker, not the platform, that is responsible.
What could a repeal mean for citizens, and the Church?
If platforms become liable for the speech of their users, they will be forced to increase, not decrease, censorship. As most tech companies have a left lean, and most political correctness is left leaning, this could result in nearly a wholesale muzzling of conservative thought, or any other thought that runs counter to “wokeness.”
In addition, lawsuits could potentially begin to pour in over otherwise protected speech. If your church hosts live feeds on Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, or any other platform, they would then be liable for your speech. If your religious views are deemed offensive to any group, the platform could be sued. Thus, if your church preaches Biblical Sexuality, your youth group teaches Biblical Gender, your marriage support group instructs in Biblical Household structure, or even if you have state Jesus is the only way to Heaven, you are opening the platform up to be sued. They have one way to respond, limiting or ending your use of their platform.
This liability will undoubtedly result in mass censorship that will not be friendly to conservatives or Christians. It could very well be the end of Church live-streaming and much Christian social media use.
Rewriting the legislation may be a good idea. But, that will take time.
Nonetheless, Repealing could be a disaster. Let’s hope another solution is reached.
Reform, yes. Repeal? Be careful what you ask for.
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