(AmericanProsperity.com) – The internet is a great place for free speech and gathering information. However, it’s also a place of increasing subjectivity around what’s considered to be acceptable content to post on social media platforms. The exact definition of what constitutes hate speech, harassment, and other forms of unwanted content is still under deliberation by big tech.
It’s all thanks to a section of the law that provides tech giants immunity from lawsuits and allows them to create highly-subjective rules. Last month, Attorney General William Barr said tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter no longer need legal shielding protecting them from accountability. He also said they should take more responsibility for what users post on their platforms.
What Is the Shield Law?
In 1996, when the internet was in its infancy, Congress passed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. At the time, there was legitimate concern about internet freedom and the capability of users and companies to invent and innovate new technologies.
Section 230 specifically protected startup tech companies from being legally responsible for what users posted on their websites. Most internet domains at that time were forums and chat sites that functioned like community bulletin boards. What the law has evolved into is a shield for tech companies against the risks of hosting third-party content while allowing them to moderate said content according to any subjective standards they create.
Tech Companies Have Outgrown the Need for Immunity
Barr believes that tech companies have outgrown the need for unity. Online technology is far beyond the early days of the internet, thanks in large part to hardware evolution, artificial intelligence development, and mass data collection capabilities. These changes have resulted in an unprecedented ability for big tech to target individual users by tracking and storing their personal data.
As a result, the line between curating user-generated content and promoting free speech has blurred a great deal.
While the internet has, at large, turned into a conglomeration of websites that function like message boards, there’s a much darker side to it. Some corners of the internet enable people to sell counterfeit products, connect criminals together, and facilitate sex and child exploitation among other illegal activities. Some of these illicit activities occur right under the noses of big social media sites, too.
Meanwhile, federal courts have upheld the law to protect tech giants from lawsuits from both individuals and the government. These lawsuits could potentially push them to curtail illegal behavior on their platforms. While big tech has taken steps to alleviate this sort of user behavior, not everyone believes enough is being done.
Tech Companies Use Section 230 Beyond Its Intent to Discriminate Against Conservatives
The DOJ has become concerned tech companies are using Section 230 well beyond its original intent to protect them against various laws and other obvious legal issues. Section 230 allows tech companies to police themselves without any legal interference, which has created a system that allows for rampant bias on the part of tech companies. Several incidents have occurred, leading conservative politicians and individuals to claim these tech giants are discriminating against them and their messages without any recourse.
Some extreme examples include the removal of a video by Elizabeth Heng. Heng was a conservative Republican running for Congress in 2018. She’s Cambodian and her video was about her family escaping from Cambodian genocide thanks to communism. Facebook took down her inspiring video claiming it was “shocking, disrespectful, and sensational.” They later removed the block and apologized after public outrage ensued.
In 2018, protesters showed up at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) home threatening him and his family. Videos created by protestors went viral over Twitter. McConnell uploaded his own video of the event and Twitter locked his account until he agreed to take it down. In the meantime, protestor videos continued to circulate across Twitter.
In 1996, then-Rep. Chris Cox of California, a Republican, said the law was never intended to be used in the ways it currently is, which was a warning not heeded enough back then.
However, there may finally be much-needed changes coming to Section 230 in the near future. In a recent speech by Jeffrey Rosen, the DOJ’s second in command, he said the benefits of Section 230 should be maintained “while harms are mitigated.”
It appears the attorney general and DOJ are in alignment and may be finally recommending some changes to the law.
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