WASHINGTON D.C. —­­ Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on The Constitution is holding a hearing titled “Stifling Free Speech: Technological Censorship and the Public Discourse.” TechFreedom submitted a letter into the record for the hearing, including TechFreedom’s testimony at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the same subject almost a year ago and a letter sent to the Attorney General on these issues last fall.

Senators Cruz and Graham misunderstand both the First Amendment and Section 230,” said Berin Szóka, President of TechFreedom. “Neither requires neutrality. Wrapping themselves in the First Amendment, both Senators talk about preventing ‘censorship,’ but ‘censorship’ is something only the government can direct. The First Amendment isn’t a sword by which the government can require neutrality or fairness; it’s a shield from such meddling by the government. Likewise, Section 230 was intended to encourage private companies to moderate and curate content as they see fit. Congress recognized that second-guessing those decisions would discourage website operators from trying to address harmful content on their sites.”

Mind-bogglingly, it’s conservatives who are now leading the charge to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine,” continued Szóka. “Conservatives spent nearly 80 years crusading against government meddling in media. Yet now, they’re trying to subject website operators to essentially the same, hopelessly arbitrary standard of ‘neutrality’ they long opposed. They’ve twisted themselves into ideological pretzels by convincing themselves that Section 230 is some kind of special subsidy to ‘Big Tech’ and that the law has always required neutrality. Both claims are patently false. All websites that host user content need clear legal protections against broad liability for user content. Without such protections, the fear of being sued will shut down the smallest sites — and, ironically, protect Big Tech from competition. But even the biggest sites will do less of the kind of content moderation that makes online communities and services usable. In the end, how they run their services will become subject to political pressure. Sadly, it already is, which seems to be the purpose of conservative fear-mongering on this issue.”

The anecdotal examples of anti-conservative bias in content moderation just don’t hold up,” concluded Szóka. “Cruz, Graham and other leading Republicans have repeatedly cited bogus examples of conservatives being ‘censored.’ Most exemplary is the brazenly false claim that now Sen. Marsha Blackburn was censored for her pro-life views. In fact, her Senate campaign launch video centered on the defamatory claim that Planned Parenthood was selling baby body parts. Neither this video nor her account were taken down by the major platforms; instead, they simply declined to allow her to pay to promote the video because it violated their terms of service. This isn’t censorship; it’s just ad companies preventing the abuse of their advertising systems. Sadly, the companies involved haven’t had the courage to debunk these claims clearly because of the vast political pressure wielded against them by lawmakers bent on partisan revenge. Their timidity should remind us all that the First Amendment bars bullying media companies just as much as explicit censorship.”

We can be reached for comment at media@techfreedom.org. See more of our work on Section 230 on our website, including:

  • Our letter to AG Session “DOJ Inquiry re Tech Companies Bias is Misguided”
  • Our blogpost “Reality Check for Trump and Republicans Crying ‘Bias’”!
  • President Berin Szóka’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on the filtering practices of social media platforms
  • Our statement on the passage of SESTA
  • Our statement on the takedown of Backpage and its implications for Section 230 and recent sex trafficking legislation
  • Tech Policy Podcast #226: The Fairness Doctrine: Next Generation
  • Tech Policy Podcast #214: Information Intermediaries in a Nutshell