Dear Congress: Platform Accountability Should Not Threaten Online Expression

from ACLU

Tomorrow, the Senate Commerce Committee is holding a hearing entitled “Does Section 230 Enable Big Tech Bad Behavior?” This is just the latest attempt by Congress and the Trump administration to amend, reinterpret, or eliminate Section 230, a key provision of federal law that generally ensures online platforms, including social media, can’t be held liable for the speech and content their users post on these platforms. This law means Yelp can’t be held legally responsible every time one of its users posts a false negative review. The Bed Bug Registry doesn’t have to visit every hotel with a magnifying glass to confirm reports from the public. And Facebook can offer a forum for billions of users to share their thoughts, pictures, memes, and videos freely without having to approve every post before they go up. 

Over the summer, Donald Trump issued an executive order calling for the Federal Communications Commission to commence a rulemaking to reinterpret Section 230 in ways entirely contrary to its purpose. Meanwhile, Congress has put forward numerous legislative proposals to amend 230. These efforts are confused at best. Many Republicans believe that the platforms at stake display an anti-conservative bias, disproportionately censoring and fact-checking conservative speakers. Many Democrats are concerned about censorship of communities of color, LGBTQ voices, and women and nonbinary people. Others are concerned that platforms promote disinformation, conspiracy theories, misinformation about voting, violence, and hate speech.

To sum up critics’ views: platforms are censoring people too much and not enough all at once. Somehow, policy makers think that the solution to these alleged problems is to expand the circumstances under which platforms can be liable for their users’ speech by amending Section 230. 

To be clear, amending this provision will not solve any of these concerns. In fact, many of the proposed changes would exacerbate over-censorship, and other proposals would promote the proliferation of misinformation about voting. Yet President Trump and Congress continue to advocate for changes to the law in an effort to encourage the censorship they like and discourage the censorship they don’t. 

More here.

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12 Comments

  1. Section 230 up for debate should not be. In my opinion I believe that this article shows the views in which Republican’s are trying to manipulate the internet up to there standards. With this election being one that will change the next four years and the path we are going down, the control the internet has on the verdict is a big one. With this being said, I believe that President Trump and Congress are wanting to change the act to make it less restrictive so their supporters can voice their opinions on all platforms. I do not disagree that everyone should not be able to say their opinion, but there is a way of saying it that does not harm others. This act is provided so censorship of materials is in place. It is not only going to attack big sites such as Facebook and Instagram, but other small networks that people put their opinions on such as Yelp. The world of technology is not trustworthy as is, but with this Section in place it always a little more security on the facts actually being facts. It is convenient that Congress and President Trump are doing this now due to online fan bases are not currently in their favor. There is a change being projected on social media sites and everyone is seeing it. Biden is using his supports in ways that he knows will count and project and this is threating President Trump. So, what more than to change a whole section in the laws to internet safety. I do agree when the article says that this will promote more false truths to the public because you will not know what is right and what is wrong. This is huge in today’s world when everything is operated based off what you read. If what you are reading is wrong, then you are believing a lie. Yes, this section provides a sanction on freedom of speak, but speech needs to be viewed as well for creditability. What would a world be if the internet had abusive accounts, false information and lude comments spread 24/7? It would not be a safe place.

  2. Social media is an extremely powerful force. It is a platform that many people take all their information from, instead of doing their own research. This can a helpful tool, as it allows people to learn about important issues they may not have come across. However, there is little to no regulations around what people post. It can be very dangerous to post false news, which a majority of the audience will take for face value. This can be very dangerous, especially if it slanders an opposing party.

    Censorship on social media has created a divide in the country. Republicans feel like Section 230 limits information in their favor and that social media displays an anti-conservative bias, while Democrats feel that limiting Section 230 would be unfairly censoring minority groups. Each party would prefer for their party to have a more predominately heard voice in the media. As the article stated, “To sum up critics’ views: platforms are censoring people too much and not enough all at once.”

    There are benefits to social media platforms and its ability to share information. It allowed for movements like #MeToo to be given a voice. It shed light on sexual assault awareness. Activism on social media is one of the main ways to create a mass following. For example, the protests in response to the murder of George Floyd would not have a fraction of supporters without social media.

    As President Donald Trump tries to amend Section 230, he is putting many people’s free speech at risk. Section 230 ensures that online platforms cannot be held liable for posts on the platform. Amending Section 230 would create over censorship, which does not solve the issues Republicans are trying to solve. Republicans feel like they are being overly censored. Making those provisions will silence their party even more. The Republican party are trying to silence Democrats, not themselves. Social media is a platform made for self-expression. Whether the information is completely accurate or not is irrelevant. People have the right to share their beliefs and opinions online. Suppressing that right would cause more issues.

  3. I think section 230 is fundamental to how the Internet operates and should be protected at all costs. I would even be open to extending the first amendment to internet forums like Facebook through legislation or potentially judicial interpretation. However, I do not know the nuance of how that would legally work. I think a lot of these companies are going down slippery slopes with the responsibility that they bear. If Facebook starts to censor some content, why not censor other content? Who determines their ethical standards and truth, and should corporations have the power to decide the truth? All of these dilemmas become long and complicated but are predicated on Facebook censoring anything in the first place. That being said, “censor” can mean a lot of things to internet users. Because Facebook’s algorithm plays an active role in post-promotion, many of the same ethical issues come up; however, instead of what can they remove, its what can’t promote or what should they promote. To refuse to promote a user is to “shadow ban” them and is functionally equivalent to full on censorship. If Facebook promotes all conservative topics and no liberal ones, are they censoring the left? If the fakebook’s algorithm unknowingly promotes extremism, does it play a role in polarization? I would like to say that anyone should be able to post anything, and the algorithm can do with it what it wants. However, algorithms can reflect the programmers’ biases or have corrupt incentive structures like “maximize clicks” even at the expense of users mental health. So letting the Internet be a fre for all with humans and robots is probably a bad idea.That being said, I think that we need to tackle these ethical dilemmas for the sake of moving into the future, and that can only happen with the experimentation and freedom empowered by section 230.
    On top of section 230, other vital pieces of the Internet’s legal framework are “fair use” and “safe harbor.” Fair use is what enables creators and users to utilize copyrighted content in a transformative way. Copying is not allowed; that’s why pirating is illegal, but taking a movie and making a critique of it using some clips would be considered transformative. Fair use does not have a very tight legal definition but does have four rough standards that judges use; the purpose and character of your use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and the effect of the use upon the potential market. Fair use enables memes, artists, content creators, and everyday users to post about their favorite movies without fear of getting sued for copyrights. Safe harbor is the idea that even when someone does post a full movie to YouTube blatantly copying it, YouTube is not liable for the copyright. YouTube is obligated to remove the post at the movie producer’s request, and all social media companies have robust algorithms to detect copyright strikes proactively, however, they are still not liable for the content of their users. Section 230 has a lot more to do with censorship in the context of the ACLU than safe harbor does with its focus on copyright, but both protect internet companies from their users’ posts and enable an open and safe dialogue on the Internet.

  4. Section 230 is one of the most impactful pieces of legislation in modern history. The vast majority of public discourse now occurs on social media platforms. Because of this, Section 230 not only impacts the extent to which tech companies are liable for the content posted on their platforms, but it also impacts the very nature of discourse on a national and multinational level. Along with the liability aspect of social media platforms, Section 230 also dictates the extent to which these companies can manipulate, and censor content displayed on their platforms. If these companies end up being handled more like a public utility, they continue to have immunity from liability, but they will also be more heavily restricted in terms of how they can alter things like search results and censorship. As it stands now, I believe that many congressmen understand there is a major issue surrounding social media companies and their undue influence on information, however most of them are so unfamiliar with how they function, that it becomes difficult for them to develop viable solutions. In the article, it states that critics want to make these companies more vulnerable to liability for the content posted on their platforms. This is obviously the wrong decision as it will force theses companies to remove any thought provoking or controversial content from their platforms. This will not only harm users for obvious reasons, but it will also have massive consequences for the companies themselves. Platforms like Twitter generate popularity by hosting things like political discourse, edgy humor, and everything in between. Without these aspects of the platform being present, they will see a major drop in traffic. This is clearly not an optimal result for either party. For these reasons, I do not think altering the extent to which these companies are liable is the correct route to take. A better option would be to limit their ability to channel traffic to specific posts or prevent traffic to others. Essentially, we should apply the 1st Amendment to these platforms. I think it is fair to say that platforms like Twitter and Facebook have influence and reach that would rival most, if not all governments 300 years ago. For this reason, the application of the 1st Amendment makes complete sense, as its main purpose was to defend the American people’s right to speak their mind. The biggest threat to that right in the modern age is manifested in the form of these social media platforms and their censorship policies.

  5. Section 230 is one of the most important pieces of legislation that governs behavior on online social platforms. In theory, Section 230 protects online platforms, like Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, from the content that their users’ post. For example, Mark Zuckerburg will not be held liable for a racially insensitive post that a Facebook user may post. While this provision in the legislation seems to be a no-brainer, current political adversaries have been trying to reinterpret and amend Section 230 in a misguided attempt to create more inclusive and less biased interned platforms for users all along the political spectrum. On the side pushing for a reinterpretation of the provision, President Trump believes that many social media platforms disproportionately censor conservative media. If this claim was true, it would mean that right-winged users would have a much harder time posting about their political views. Looking on Twitter at President Trump’s last few tweets may be evidence of this, as almost half of his latest posts include disclaimers or warnings about the materials in the post. Some may argue that the information he is posting is potentially harmful or inaccurate, but others believe Twitter should not have the ability to flag down posts whenever it wants. On the other side of the political spectrum, both leftists and rights activists fear that posts regarding LGBTQ+, women, and nonbinary people may be similarly flagged down or censored. As the article suggests, making changes to Section 230, whether in the form of a new interpretation or amending the provision, would cause even more censorship on both sides of the aisle. Social media platforms would have even more power to decide what they want to show their users and what they do not show. Regardless of party affiliation, this is a problem.

    I believe that online platforms should be protected fully against what their users post, but only to certain extents. Online platforms have every right to remove or censor posts that directly violate their Terms of Use or Privacy Licenses. Otherwise, I do not believe that it is the job of Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, Twitter, etc. to tell me what information is correct or inaccurate and shield me from posts that they may not want me to see. Instead of allowing online platforms to play moderator in political topics or discussions that may cause biased censorship, they should give back their users the responsibility to understand that everything they see on the internet may not be necessarily true, accurate, or agreeable. I know that whenever I am online, I read everything with a lens. This is something that everyone should do. Similar to using sources in a research paper, we should all be aware of potentially biased information and stick to vetted and reputable sources. Either way, it is no one else’s job but our own to discover the validity of a post.

  6. Social media can be a useful platform when it comes to expressing your true self and as a method to communicate with distant friends and family. But Section 230 can be up for debate if social media really allows you to show your true self and self-expression. Since the election that we just went through was such a close and tough election between both parties, the effect that the internet had on the election definitely played a large role in who someone voted for. For example, most people believe everything that they see on the internet without question because they think that what everyone puts on the internet is true which is not the case. Many people voice their negative opinions without facts on the internet for people to believe. The internet can devalue people and their identities because of the consent that some sources allow.
    The internet is not something that can always be trusted because the sources that contribute information are not always trustworthy. With Congress putting rules on Section 230, it ensures that most facts that you will see on the internet are actual facts and not just statements that people made up to back up their own beliefs. I like how the article mentions that this law will show the “false negatives” that social media portrays. Being that we are still centered in the middle of a pandemic, social media, and everything that you read on that internet is what everyone is basing their opinions and formulating thoughts based on what they see because they have no other source of information. Posting information that is not true about someone on the other side, or the opposing party can hurt them in the end just by lies that were spread on the internet.
    The internet can be a very helpful place when it comes to educating yourself because it can provide insights and information about things that you were unsure about as long as you be sure that you are reading the correct information. Social media often lets the users curse and use swear words on the platform completely. I personally think that the internet and certain social medias should limit the content or at least the facts that people post so that the right information continues to be shared. I do also think that social media can be a good platform to make people aware. Such as sexual harassment and sexual misconduct movements. Allowing people to know what goes on in the world around them is important so others can spread awareness. Section 230 is more about the censorship behind the content that is posted rather than limiting what people can post. In order to be successful and allow the world to continue to run smoothly the right information must continue to be spread and with the law in place the country will definitely benefit and see improvements with the knowledge people have when correct facts are only being posted.

  7. Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 enables the unacceptable behavior that big tech corporations hold. While it protects social media platforms from liabilities in an action to take down or restrict access of a material that the provider feels is no appropriate, it brings to question whether these providers use their capabilities appropriately. An example of an abuse of their power is when Hunter Biden’s laptop was found and it was revealed there was information on an illegal meeting with a Ukraine firm that him and Joe Biden met with. The New York Post has written an article that was fact check, yet Facebook and Twitter used their power of Section 230 to make this article inaccessible through their apps. CEO Jack Dorsey of twitter was questioned as to why the article and leaked laptop information was censored even though it was fact checked. Dorsey went further as to disable posts from The New York Posts account. Dorsey explained that he wanted to limit the spread of materials that are hackable and can be perceived inaccurately. What is not okay about this is the fact that this article was not only posted from a reliable source, but was fact check, even though Dorsey argues it is not. This shows that Dorsey simply did not like the article and did not want other people to see it and get the wrong idea. Whether he liked it or did not like it, anyone has the right to read it. Both Facebook and Twitter later on apologized saying they dealt with this in the wrong way. This situation shows how much these corporations control what we see and can alter whatever they want to their liking. We should be able to live in a world where there is unbias in our news and Section 230 does not allow this. I believe that Section 230 needs to be adjusted and can be corrected into better terms and conditions by not giving these corporations the ability to chose what we see, or even see anything at all. With the proper steps, we can live in a world where we are not restricted on the information we receive about current day issues.

  8. As a child raised during the creation of the internet dynasty that we all live in currently, I can say that one of the coolest aspects of being an internet user gets overlooked a lot now that it has been around for so long. I of course refer to the ability to post content and then get responses from around the world. In fact, I remember when I was younger that I would go to the library to use the giant computers they had installed in the children’s section for the computer games and a new service called YouTube. However, with the recent push by the Trump administration to change protections on the internet, I feel like the internet dynasty in America has been under threat by this president not only with the loss of net neutrality, but also with the still developing push against Section 230. Section 230 in simplified terms is basically a way for tech companies and their platforms to be defended from any legal action that their users publish on their sites. As an example, if I was going to publish the new Rambo movie on YouTube and take credit for the movie as my own creation instead of subscribing to the terms of fair use, I would be the only one to receive any possible repercussions, and the platform that I used to post it would receive not even a slap on the wrist. While this may seem like the platform washing its hands of any responsibility, the opposite extreme many argue would be infinitely worse. YouTube alone has close to 720,000 hours of content uploaded to the platform each day, so if something illegal or disturbing was put up without YouTube’s knowledge or consent, then the platform holders would go extreme and try to quickly ban everything close to the source of the problem to make sure they do not receive any blame whatsoever. What strikes me as especially ironic is the ones pushing the changes are the ones who would complain the loudest if the companies responsible for monitoring these sites ever actually were motivated to monitor their users content. For example, some highly controversial conservatives want the changes pushed through to stop their supposed “censorship” on these platforms, but if the changes they want to go through actually happen, then they would only face more stringent censorship in order to make sure they do not step on the toes of anyone using the site. Simply put, if the proponents of changing the bill actually succeed, then they would only exasperate the issue they wanted to solve.

  9. Online censorship is a very confusing subject. It is hard to decide on different punishments and what different things violate various policies. The fact that the first amendment gives us the right to free speech is the part that makes it difficult to judge how different interactions online violate different online policies. There are many different ways that people can express themselves on many different platforms. On social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter people argue about various topics like sports, township issues, politics, religion and much more. Some of these people are censored based on their views and some of the things that they say. Some people are banned for certain explicit language or empty threats. People cursing at one another could face bans on certain platforms. Many online gaming bans are from people cursing at one another for problems caused while playing with people all over the world. On these types of platforms you could be banned for weeks at a time, but social media is different. Especially with the election there were many controversies about information put out onto social media. There are people who are having accounts deactivated and stories benign deleted from social media. One hockey player for the New York Rangers, Tony Deangelo, expressed his support for Donald Trump on Twitter and his account was deactivated for a few days. I think this is unfair because people have the right to support who they want and if they aren’t saying anything inappropriate on social media. Especially high profile athletes have to be careful what they have to put out on the internet. It is against their rights to have those things be silenced though. If someone is just showing their support for a candidate then they shouldn’t have that support taken down. Overall online censorship is a complicated subject with many different issues and it seems like there is no right decision when it comes to this subject.

  10. As of now, I think section 230 does what it has to do. The first amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This freedom of speech also carries over to online platforms and it would be unfair to hold websites liable for what people put out there. I do really like the idea of websites having the ability to censor what people put out if it violates the terms and conditions, which people are agreeing upon by using the site. If people have disagreements with these terms and conditions and they do not like that their content gets censored, they can always use another platform. I also like how Section 230 leaves the people legally liable for what goes they put out. Websites should have to deal with the legal issues that arise from someone spuing hate on their platforms. People should be held responsible. Furthermore, I like the idea of there being fact checks on social media platforms and other news platforms. The media plays a huge role in the opinions of people and many people whole heartedly believe everything they read online. This can be detrimental to people developing their own thoughts and opinions, especially if the information is not true. The article also discusses former president Trump’s attempts at trying to change Section 230 and I think this is a way for him to try to manipulate the media in his favor because he knows how large of an impact the media plays into people’s beliefs. Trump wanted Section 230 changed based on his own political agenda attempting to be re-elected to serve as the President of the United States. The article talks about a proposition to change 230 that would hold websites who direct users to fact checked information to be held liable. How does that make sense? Personally, I feel that websites directing users to real information is one hundred percent the right thing to do. All in all, I think Section 230 does a good job of keeping a balance between a websites rights as well as holding people responsible for their own decisions.

    https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/United_States_of_America_1992

  11. I think Section 230 should absolutely not be up for debate. Social media allows for people to express their views and spread awareness on very prominent and pressing issues. Taking this away would be silencing our voices and would create too much censorship. While I understand and do believe there is a lot of spreading of misinformation on social media, the spread of misinformation can happen anywhere. We see it on news outlets and even by word of another when speaking with friends or family. Censoring and silencing the voices of users on social media is not the solution to this problem. With social media it allows people to speak up and spread awareness on issues they are passionate about. Without the the freedom that we have on social media I would have been blind to so many injustices going on not only in this country, but also throughout the world. If it were not for Section 230, so many people would not have been able to speak out and share their stories and experiences, specifically regarding the “#metoo movement”. Section 230 provides people with an outlet to express themselves and builds a sense of community among users. I think the policy makers looking to amend Section 230 want to amend it to benefit the republicans and further their political agenda. This would allow them censorship on things to benefit them and vice versa. “In fact, many of the proposed changes would exacerbate over-censorship, and other proposals would promote the proliferation of misinformation about voting. Yet President Trump and Congress continue to advocate for changes to the law in an effort to encourage the censorship they like and discourage the censorship they don’t.” This furthers the idea that the motive with amending Section 230 has a political purpose, not to benefit the people, in fact this will likely only hurt the people. It is scary to me that politicians even want to control what we can and cannot post and see on the internet now, in my opinion that is extreme. Section 230 already provides safety for users on its sites and there are legal ramifications in place for certain violations. I do not see the need to amend Section 230.

  12. The amount of issues we had and how we have so many bad things happening right now, I don’t think its a good idea for having section 230 up in any discussion. I feel like its a good thing to have section 230 in because the amount of bad things that are shown or said on the internet is not any good. Section 230 gives us safety as well, but i don’t think to change it would be a good idea. i feel like the ay we have section 230 now is good, we just have to maybe improve the security on internet websites and make sure we put stricter laws on what’s to post and not. We should only use social media to talk about world events or news or sports, but many people take advantage of that moment and sometimes post racial or negative pictures or comments and that needs to stop. Basically hate crimes and everything happen all on social media and we need to stop, we already have enough problems of what goes on in this world. If anything the internet website that is posting the terrible content, should improve their settings or what can be posted or not, that’s not on anything to do with section230, that should be on the social media website and i feel like if they improve on their pat, there will be no reason to try to up section 230. I feel like if you give section 230 a extra layer of protection, it would give them too much power, and they would be able to monitor every little thing, and that is not fair. That means companies don’t have to look through millions of posts to make sure they are not violating any laws before allowing them to appear online, because it basically means that’s not their responsibility. It also means people can post pretty much whatever they want and companies can say that they aren’t responsibility for the effects.

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