Goodbye Section 230, Hello Liberty
For too long Americans have watched Big Tech trample on the principles of the First Amendment – free speech, freedom of thought and belief, free assembly, and the free exchange of ideas. As more and more information is filtered through online platforms, the First Amendment becomes a dead letter. That is why I am taking action to hold these companies accountable.
Today, I’m presenting the 21st Century Foundation for the Right to Express and Engage in Speech Act (or the 21st Century FREE Speech Act), which would restore the Bill of Rights – rather than the whims of big business – as a guide for what Americans can say or hear in the public square today.
The modern public square is dominated by ubiquitous platforms facing little significant competition. Instead of being accountable to consumers or voters, the companies that dominate communications today use opaque and inconsistent practices to control what information Americans can see and discuss. As Justice Clarence Thomas noted in a recent Supreme Court opinion, public carriers – such as trains or telephone networks, which are essential to day-to-day operations, connecting people and serving all comers ” without discrimination. The same logic should apply today to Big Tech.
Unfortunately, our laws have not kept pace with this technological reality. The statutes governing freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas online have not been updated for a quarter of a century. Since its passage in 1996, Section 230 has gone from its original intent – promoting the free exchange of ideas online – to a censorship license for companies like Facebook and Twitter.
In recent months, these platforms have effectively stifled newspaper articles that they find impractical for the preferred candidates of their loudest users. Big tech companies have silenced mainstream American politicians, while ignoring the narrative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, even as he tweets hateful things, including calls to “eliminate Israel” and talks about the way to do it. These platforms have censored and editorialized with blatant political bias – writing progressive ideology into their content policies or removing dissent against Covid lockdowns off their sites. Moderate and conservative viral content is removed. Twitter has blocked the New York Post account for its reporting on Hunter Biden, while Amazon has removed from its streaming service an acclaimed documentary on Justice Thomas during Black History Month. Implicit in these censorship practices, there is an apparent belief that Big Tech has a right to shape what Americans can learn and believe – a totalitarian concept that runs counter to American values.
My Bill (1) would abolish Section 230, (2) would treat Big Tech – defined as any interactive computing service platform with more than 100 million monthly active users worldwide – as a common carrier that must provide reasonable and non-discriminatory access to all consumers, and (3) prohibit political censorship by Big Tech.
In addition to not discriminating against political opinions that their employees personally dislike, social media companies should be required to provide basic transparency to consumers regarding their products, since many Americans rely on them for news. and information. The 21st Century FREE Speech Act would require platforms to disclose their content management and moderation practices to users, so consumers can understand and better manage the information they receive.
21st Century Freedom of Expression Law would abolish section 230 in favor of a liability protection framework that marries the original intent of this section with the practical implications of the enormous technological change that has taken place. produced over the past 25 years. Liability protection would remain in place for third party speech and family moderation of specifically defined obscene or obscene content, without providing unlimited special protection for censorship of speech and platform perspective. This legislation provides the liability protection necessary to stimulate continuous innovation, without giving companies carte blanche to censor speech for political, religious or other reasons.
Ultimately, the 21st Century FREE Speech Act aims to promote freedom of speech, thought, and the exchange of ideas. It’s about trusting Americans, not big corporations, to determine what information to consume, believe, and share. I think Americans are smart enough to figure this out for themselves.
As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. put it in a 1919 Supreme Court opinion regarding the censorship issue of his day, the printers’ pursuit of an anti-American leaflet during World War I: ” The theory of our Constitution ”is that“ the desired ultimate good is best achieved through the free exchange of ideas ”and“ the best test of truth is the power of thought to gain acceptance in market competition ”.
This freedom to think, discuss and determine one’s own beliefs is the foundation of American freedom and opportunity. Washington cannot allow Twitter and Facebook to take away those freedoms. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to ensure their preservation.
Mr. Hagerty, a Republican, is a United States Senator from Tennessee.
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