New Legislation Could Significantly Alter What You See On Your Newsfeed
Details on what Section 230 is and why you should care.
One of the few bipartisan issues in Washington seems to be that everyone is angry at Facebook and Twitter. Members of both parties are ready to revoke some legal protections social media companies have enjoyed since their founding, which could significantly alter the type of content you see and don’t on your newsfeed.
One of the biggest voices demanding change to the legal protections social networks have is President Trump. The POTUS has tweeted he wants a repeal of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act because of alleged censorship and bias towards conservatives. Other Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, have also called for social media reforms. Senator Cruz has accused the social giants of anti-conservative bias.
Democrats like Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut are concerned about the spreading of misinformation and hate speech on the social platforms.
For most social media users, a political discussion is probably the last thing you want to have as we wrap up the longest election cycle in history during the longest year in history. However, this is an important political issue because it will impact all of us and how we use social media and what information we can read and what content we will see.
The Communications Decency Act of 1996 was a part of the larger Telecommunications Act of 1996 that brought sweeping changes to the media and telecom industry, including allowing radio companies to own an unlimited number of stations nationwide. Prior to 1996, a company could only own a few stations across the country. This example is just one of the many changes that occurred thanks to the implementation of the act.
Section 230 was a portion of The Communications Decency Act that essentially allows internet companies protection from lawsuits for content uploaded by users of their websites. When you are a company as big as Facebook with 2 billion users, this protection is crucial to your business because trying to regulate content now without new updates to the law is already a monumental undertaking. However, it should be noted the legislation does not offer complete protection from lawsuits. Companies can still be held accountable for federal crimes or copyright violations, which is why you can’t upload that song from your favorite band, and it remain on the site.
President Trump signed an executive order in May 2020 addressing online bias and Section 230, but with Trump’s term coming to an end in January, his time to influence policy from the Oval Office on this issue is running out.
A revision to Section 230 could have serious consequences for freedom of speech on social media. If Congress revokes the protections social networks have now and start making them more liable for user-generated content on their websites and apps, this will result in the unintended consequence of less speech occurring online, not more.
If the social media companies are held more responsible for posted videos and stories, thousands of pieces of content could be removed weekly as the fear of lawsuits and additional governmental oversight into their businesses would drive them to censor more posts.
The standard for what would be considered “inappropriate” would be greatly raised as Facebook could face multiple lawsuits due to uploaded content.
While I do agree there is content on social media that should be removed, including posts encouraging criminal activity, violence, and downright vulgarity, we must tread lightly down the path of regulating speech online, even if it is speech you may disagree with that is posted.
You may praise the removal of political content from the other side of the political aisle, but tomorrow it could be your political causes and viewpoints getting removed off of Twitter.
A better way forward is for more speech online. Let people have the freedom to speak and prove themselves to be correct or to allow them to make a fool of themselves. People are smart enough to make up their minds on the issues of the day. Again, as long as someone isn’t advocating harm or violence against others, let them speak.
If Section 230 is reevaluated and social media companies become liable for content posted on their platforms, look for a totally different newsfeed heading your way.
No social media network would be safe, not even the “free speech alternative” Parler, because they’ll have to regulate posts as well. If this were to become a reality, the companies would have almost have no choice but to edit and remove more content because their bottom line would be on the line.
My hope is Facebook, Twitter, among others, will strongly come out to defend free speech and support all having the chance to share their opinions, including liberals and conservatives on their platforms.
If social media is the new town square, then the townspeople should be able to respectfully meet together and debate the issues of the day without more government regulation.
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