Time For Congress to Crack Down on Big Tech Malefactors
Current events show that Facebook and Twitter need to be held accountable for their malevolent and partisan actions. It is time for Congress to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to close the loophole that currently shields social-media companies from incurring legal liability for a wide range of offenses, ranging from racial discrimination to claims the companies facilitate violence and human trafficking.
The result of the current loophole in the law is that bad actors are protected from being taken to court. This immunity incentivizes more bad behavior, as there is no accountability for wrongdoing. Amending Section 230 will hold these companies accountable and hopefully end the censorship of conservative voices. There are many ways to reform the law, but Congress must begin the debate immediately.
What else besides the lack of legal liability explains the brazen actions taken by Facebook and Twitter last week? How many American companies in the past would so openly and unapologetically attempt to suppress a news report — along with speech about it — published in one of our country’s oldest and most-widely-read newspapers?
The story in question, ran by the New York Post, reported on e-mails seemingly confirming that Hunter Biden engaged in corruption during (indeed, directly involving) the vice presidency of his father, Joe Biden. Twitter and Facebook both tried to justify their actions, but it is clear that both companies censored the story for political reasons. For example, Twitter claimed it banned the sharing of hacked materials only to realize that the reporting had no connection to hacking.
There is only one word to describe Facebook and Twitter’s reaction to the Post’s story: un-American. Twitter banned the account of anyone who posted a link to the story, going so far as preventing the story from being shared in private messages. The Post’s Twitter account, with nearly two million followers, was shut down, as were the accounts of journalists at other publications such as Politico who showed interest in the story.
Twitter did not stop there, of course, banning accounts of legions of public and private citizens. The spokeswoman for President Trump, Kayleigh McEnany, was temporarily banned. So too were the accounts of various Republican candidates and campaigns.
Of course, the First Amendment applies to suppression of speech by the government, not nongovernmental suppression of speech — as would be the case here. However, it is wrong to assume that freedom of speech is a principle that only matters in cases of governmental action and is otherwise irrelevant. Freedom of speech is undoubtedly protected by the U.S. Constitution and by other laws, but the principle runs in America’s blood.
We should always be concerned when we see any of our institutions rejecting such basic American principles as free speech, especially when corporate giants like Facebook and Twitter are the ones rejecting the First Amendment.
These platforms grew in popularity because of their democratic appeal: Jack Dorsey’s predecessor as CEO famously described his vision of Twitter as “a global town square”; and last year, Mark Zuckerberg similarly described Facebook as “the digital equivalent of a town square.”
The magnitude of power and influence wielded by Facebook and Twitter, combined with both companies’ shift from center-left to far-left — away from democratic principles, toward Democratic politics — is not a development anyone ought to welcome.
Fixing the loophole that currently exists in Section 230 will provide an impetus for Facebook and Twitter to rethink their abandonment of democratic ideals in favor of partisan aims, if only because litigation will be a monetary reminder that their companies can no longer censor speech without facing repercussions.
It would be better for America if Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Dorsey would take the lead and reinstate a culture of free speech at their respective companies. It would also be better for Facebook and Twitter if this is done right away — well before Congress begins drafting legislation, at which point they could well find their fates being determined by lawmakers less interested in reform than punishment.
Steve Marshall (R) is the 48th Attorney General of Alabama.