WASHINGTON D.C. — Tomorrow morning, TechFreedom President Berin Szóka will testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the filtering practices of social media platforms.
In recent congressional hearings with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) accused Facebook of suppressing conservative speech, and argued that the site should lose its immunity for user-generated content under Section 230 because its content moderation practices are not politically “neutral.” Cruz and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) have also called for amending Section 230 to limit its protections to “neutral public platforms.” Szóka will address these misunderstandings about Section 230 immunity and explain why a Fairness Doctrine for the Internet would be both unwise and unconstitutional.
Szóka’s written testimony states:
Content moderation is an inevitable part of the Internet. Website operators will always have to make judgments about what content to take down and what to leave up, monitor and moderate objectionable content, promote effective counter-speech, educate their users, and generally create healthy, positive and dynamic online communities. This is itself a kind of innovation — no less important than the technical work of constantly improving the services themselves. The moderator’s race to stay ahead of bad actors online, or to strike the right balance between free expression and other values will never end. There is certainly plenty more that websites, in general, can do to improve how they moderate content, but there’s no one, right way to do it across the board, and it will evolve with new challenges. This is precisely why Section 230 was crafted as it is: to avoid having the government try to meddle with “vast democratic forums” of the Internet and remove disincentives against responsible self-policing.
“Congress wrote Section 230 to remove disincentives against actively moderating user content,” said Szóka. “The law was created in part to ensure that platforms could delete harmful or offensive user content without fear of being second-guessed in court. Nowhere in the text of Section 230 or in any relevant case law is there any requirement for a platform to remain neutral in order to qualify for immunity. If anything, Section 230 means the opposite: that platforms like Facebook, and Twitter and YouTube have the freedom to remove whatever content they deem objectionable. Ironically, these sites could manage the cost and legal risk of administering a Fairness Doctrine for the Internet, but small sites and startups could not. Regulation intended to curb the power of today’s tech giants would simply entrench it.”
“When applied to broadcasting, the Fairness Doctrine discouraged robust discussion of controversial topics; on the Internet, it would do even more damage to free speech,” continued Szóka. “While intended to preserve diversity of opinion, the Fairness Doctrine ultimately only protected the most mainstream views and sidelined unpopular opinions — the very opposite of what was intended. The Internet has done more to empower free expression than any invention in human history. The last thing Congress should do is attempt to impose on the Internet an outdated regulatory paradigm from the broadcast era. That conservative Republicans should suddenly support a Fairness Doctrine for the Internet, after railing against the idea for decades, is simply baffling.”
Read Szóka’s oral testimony here.
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