Internet

Because Politicians Are for Sale, They Think Everyone Else Is Too

Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) has proposed a dreadful bill that would give the government control of internet content. He thinks the only reason anyone could be opposed is because they've been bought off.

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About two weeks ago, freshman Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) introduced legislation that would effectively give the federal government control over large swaths of internet content. Hawley claims to be a limited-government type, but he believes that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other social media platforms are suppressing conservative points of view and thus need to be regulated. Though that charge has become a truism among conservatives (including the president), there is little-to-no solid evidence for it and in fact, there are reasons to believe that right-leaning sources such as Fox News, The Daily Mail, and Donald Trump dominate Google and Facebook in terms of engagement and reach.

Hawley waves away such suggestions in his misleadingly titled Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, which would strip larger websites and services of the legal immunity they have under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act "unless they submit to an external audit that proves by clear and convincing evidence that their algorithms and content-removal practices are politically neutral."

Section 230 grants people running websites and services immunity from being charged with defamation and libel for things commenters say; it also lets administrators moderate comments any way they see fit without losing protections. Also known as "the 26 words that created the internet," Section 230 is widely understood to be the rule

that has enabled the internet to become driven by user-generated content, from YouTube videos to Yelp reviews to basically all of Twitter. You get rid of Section 230 and all that—and much more—is toast. In its first decade, Section 230 was mostly celebrated for allowing free expression and new economic models, but these days it is under attack from conservative Republicans such as Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and from liberal Democrats such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, all of whom have expressed interest in ripping up Section 230 and regulating social media.

Hawley's bill was mostly panned by libertarians who fear giving a panel put together by the Federal Trade Commission the ability to fine private actors based on nebulous criteria. Perhaps because politicians can be so easily bought, the senator is having trouble understanding why free-speech advocates are troubled by his plan. The only possible reason he can believe is that they've been paid off:

The senator thus compounds his disdain for free speech with accusations that his opponents are unscrupulous. The NBC News article his tweet points to goes further still, explicitly linking opposition from the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and R Street Institute to funding from "big tech companies."

Every one of those think tanks and advocacy groups is backed by Google, Facebook or both. The companies are not only two of the main targets of Hawley's bill, but they're also the focus of broader political scrutiny that now spans both parties and has spilled over into the Democratic presidential race.

"I've never seen pushback in such a fashion before," Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank, told NBC News. "Even with net neutrality, these groups were all over the place—even though Facebook and Google supported it. It's safe to say that it's largely due to pressure from the social media giants that hasn't been seen before."

What he misses is that libertarian outfits were against so-called net neutrality for exactly the same reasons they are against Hawley's latest proposal: It would have given the government broad ability to regulate internet content. That Google, Facebook, and others were in favor of net neutrality actually shows that the think tanks currently being attacked are operating out of principle rather than mercenary greed.

It's probably too much to ask that a politician understand that some people don't act out of partisan motives simply because some money has been waved in their faces. Hopefully, it's not too much to expect Hawley's bill to ever make it into law.

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  1. Another example why politicians need to have very short , (1 term) , careers.

    1. Nick and Hawley’s libertarian critics are missing the point. Section 230 was passed in order to encourage free discussion on the internet, not to encourage censorship of free discussion by tech giants.

      230 had its desired effect, it enabled social media to flourish. Now that the tech giants have become monopolies on the back of the freewheeling discussion 230 encouraged, they are the ones de facto repealing 230 – by censoring the free wheeling content their Silicon Valley SJW employees don’t like.

      Can I repeat one more time, so that even libertarians can understand, Section 230 was a grant to tech companies to exempt them from the legal restraints of publishers, ie libel, copyright, etc. The grant was explicitly made in order to encourage a fledgling technology to achieve its professed objective: foster unfettered discussion in ways old media never could.

      And it worked. Social media became a place of unfettered free speech unseen in human history. Social media platforms became big business – and monopolies in the new public space. And then once they had secured their monopoly positions, they bait-and-switched with the best of them: they decided to censor what they didn’t like. Why? Because they were stunned by their communities’ power in 2016 to disrupt, and they wanted to make sure that a phenomenon like Trump would never happen again.

      I don’t know whether Hawley’s bill gets enacted, gets modified and enacted, or gets shelved. What I do know should happen is that the 230 exemption – remember, it was designed to encourage free speech, not censor it – should be removed from any company who censors their users.

      And for libertarians – either you’re for freedom in general, and free speech in particular, or you’re in favor of plutocrats censoring free speech. That’s the real choice in this debate. Plutocrats who achieved their monopolies on the back of a government grant – section 230 – are not free marketeers, they are rent seekers, and don’t deserve our support.

      If you support the intent of Section 230, namely to encourage free speech, then you need to be against Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple, Spotify, Shopify, GoDaddy, Namecheap and any other tech SJW plutocrat who wants to control the 21st century speakers corner of social media.

  2. It’s also possible he’s being disingenuous.

    1. Zuckerberg? Gillespie? Hawley? Trump?

      Yes!

  3. >>>freshman Sen. … introduced legislation

    problemo numero uno.

    1. We should combine your observation with Don’t look at me!’s assertion that politicians be limited to 1 term.

      1. word. thought that also.

      2. If they were all freshman, all proposals would be rejected, and we would be better off.

  4. Actually, a great idea. The feds take over, the current internet/web becomes as dysfunctional as the Post Office, and falls apart.
    The new web arises, with all new players (same as the old players), out of the reach of the totalitarians.

    1. It is worth reading the (new) novel Fall; or, Dodge in Hell to read futurist Neal Stephenson’s take on how fake news kills the internet and leads to Web 2.0. Given the prescience he displayed in Snow Crash, I would not at all be surprised if he is on the mark again this time.

    2. The idea is statist as hell for sure. On the other hand, the communist techies in the bay area ironically work in what is arguably the least regulated industry in America while successfully advocating for massive regulation in every other sector of the economy. If the tech world got the same kind of heavy handed, cost raising, job killing regulation as everyone else it might actually wise them up a bit.

      1. Doubtful, the ones left will love it. Means more money for them with less competition.

    3. The new web arises, with all new players (same as the old players), out of the reach of the totalitarians.

      You’re telling me Zuckerberg isn’t a totalitarian? The current web is out of reach of totalitarians. The problem is, large parts of it are out of reach of users too.

  5. The idea that “politicians are for sale” is one of the dumbest talking points of the 21st Century. It is actually an excuse to jettison the 1st Amendment in the guise of “reform”.

    Tell me, how much can I pay Bernie Sanders to sponsor a pro-Life bill? How much will it take for Ted Cruz to come out for Single payer? How much for AOC to support fracking in upstate NY? What is Maxine Waters price tag in order to…, OK, bad example.

  6. Reason is just jealous that their hush money from Google and Facebook came with strings attached saying it had to be kept, well, hushed, because it was so embarrassingly small.

  7. I’ll take a republican for ten dollars, and a democrat for nine dollars, and please gift wrap them.
    They’re for a friend of mine’s birthday.

  8. […] frågan är om politisk reglering är ett dugg […]

  9. Hawley’s proposal is garbage and should never be passed. That being said, the idea that conservatives are not being censored on twitter is pure bullshit. You are not even able to discuss basic biology when talking about transgender people according to twitter’s own guidelines — if you say “a biological man is a man” your account can get suspended under the guise of “harassment”.

    That policy alone is active censorship of a conservative position. I hate that Reason has gone full democrat/progressive.

    1. Twitter is a private company and is allowed to censor whatever the hell they want.

      1. Like I said elsewhere – you will applaud them as they censor you.

        1. I don’t use Twitter so they can’t censor me. Crazy how that works, it’s almost like participation among private entities is voluntary or something.

          1. You’ve left the conversation and handed your microphone to other people. Congrats, you’ve been censored.

  10. Well I can tell you that the answer to a monopoly on public speech is not granting that monopoly to amn entity with a monopoly on violence. I’ll take my chances fighting a monopoly that is still subject to competition and market forces over the monopolies of the State any day.

  11. Hawley is right – but only partially. Obviously, we can’t have gubbmint regulating ANYTHING. But we can have regulation via civil suit. These tech companies, Twitter, especially, are claiming that they are platforms, NOT publishers, and therefore cannot be held liable for what is said on their “platform”. We all know that libertarian or conservative speech is “de-platformed” on Twitter under the guise of “hate speech” or some such nonsense. This behavior demonstrates conclusively that Twitter is NOT a platform, and is, in fact a publisher, in that Twitter censors its content according to ideology. No problem with that from a libertarian perspective, but to advertise one thing and do another is fraud – the misrepresentation of a material fact, and the inducement of another in reliance upon it to part with some valuable thing or legal right. The misrepresentation is the nature of the “platform” and terms of service and the valuable thing is the user’s data and/or attention (for advertisers).

    I’m just waiting for Andy Ngo’s lawyer to take this on when she sues Twitter for aiding and abetting his attackers while banning libertarians and conservatives.

  12. The author is right about Hawley’s bill – it’s garbage and would end up granting control of Internet content to the political FCC.

    But they really undercut themselves by showing they don’t understand net neutrality while comparing this proposal to it.

  13. ummmmm,…The Daily Mail is Right Leaning????? I must be reading the wrong one.

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