Social Media Immunity – Section 230

“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” Section 230.

I began my last blog with a quote from Donald Trump on how the 1996 Communications Decency Act gave rights to social media companies, which are not enjoyed by others in the electronic communications business, such as television and radio. It was a recognition of the immense difficulty these companies have in monitoring content. I added the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as I felt it provided a simple explanation of why the social media platforms are protected by Section 230.

I wanted to make it clear that when Republicans go after Section 230 of this act, they are attacking the foundations of Donald Trump’s new foray into social media, by making his website vulnerable to legal action. There is an enormous list of websites, which depend on Section 230 protection, including Youtube, Vimeo, Amazon, Yelp, craigslist and WordPress. Yes, WordPress which hosts this website.

My prior post was not particularly kind to our former president. I want to make it clear that Facebook and Twitter are also a platform hosting a ton of political propaganda garbage. I don’t look for news/commentary on Facebook or any other social media site. I consider these sites to cluttered with personal attacks and often void of any real news.

If someone posts information on how to fix my bicycle or dishwasher, that’s great. I guess I too much of a news snob to look for news commentary on Facebook. Still, if they provide bad information a bicycle, there’s Section 230 immunity. Plus, it’s likely they did not provide this bad information intentionally.

A public forum is any place open to the general public where ideas can be freely exchanged. We have evolved from people making public speeches in the town square and newspapers to radio, television, cable and satellite networks, and now to worldwide internet social networks. Our First Amendment right to freedom of speech and press, came about before radio was invented. It is not an absolute right to expression. Disrobing in public can still get you arrested on indecent exposure charges.

How far does one go in protecting the free exchange of ideas or expression? Go too far, and you will likely get sued. Lou Dobbs comes to mind right away. He was a master at righteous indignation, with comments like “What are they thinking?” in referring to various policies on immigration, climate change, China policy (yes, he supported bombing China), etc. His show ended when Smartmatic sued him for defamation of their voting machines. Alex Jones is another case, as he was sued based on commentary on the Sandy Hook shootings. It happened nine years ago, and hopefully next year, he’ll have to pay up.

So, Lou Dobbs or Alex Jones won’t be posting on Facebook anytime soon. Telling people that Covid vaccines will alter your DNA so in two years you will die, is exactly what will get you censored and ultimately thrown off of Facebook. You will be thrown off because you violated the terms of posting to the site. Well, you are in violation in the opinion of the site’s owners. But will Trump’s site allow them to spread their garbage propaganda. I’m afraid of this. Asks National Enquirer, garbage sells. And Section 230 will protect them. In fact, both the First Amendment and Section 230 makes it very difficult to censor someone because there is always some place on social media which will allow outrageous ideas to be broadcasted.

The real power of social media is targeted marketing. Quite apparent, where you go on the internet, as indicated by the searches you do, can define you to others. So, in the old days, you could glance at a newspaper, and decide if the headline story interests you before buying the paper. Now, with social media, the news/commentary often piled high with falsehoods, will find you. So, if you want to believe that Biden is plotting to take away your guns, you will get “breaking news” sent to your cell phone in agreement with your beliefs.

There’s a certain appeal with the claim, that “only here can you find the real truth” of what is going on. It is particularly appealing to conspiracy prone folks, who believe big government and business are hiding the real news.

How to fix things? I don’t see this as a problem with the system (freedoms, privileges, the internet), or “them” (big government, big tech). The problem is with us and our own laziness to get the facts straight. I’m hoping the next generation understands that honesty counts.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Wikipedia: Lou Dobbs

Cornell Law, Section 230

Supreme Court on Section 230 (Thomas’ opinion mischaracterized. No justice joined with Thomas. I consider his comments “pure dictum.” Trump won the right to block followers on Twitter, limiting what could be discussed.)

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