Free Speech

Beto O'Rourke Proposes Plan to Punish Tech Companies for Failing to Censor Hate Speech

The move would violate the First Amendment.

|

Democratic presidential hopeful and former congressman Beto O'Rourke announced on Friday that he would like to remove legal protections from tech companies if they fail to police hate speech online. As with previous attempts to interfere with internet speech, the move would be an assault on the First Amendment.

O'Rourke joins a growing chorus of lawmakers and political activists who would like to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms from facing lawsuits over potentially defamatory statements posted to those platforms by users.

The Texas Democrat sees such protection as untenable in the wake of recent mass shootings, such as this month's incident in El Paso, which the shooter carried out after posting an anti-immigrant diatribe online. "We must connect the dots between internet communities providing a platform for online radicalization and white supremacy, as propaganda outlets like Fox News fuel that fire, and the fact that hate crimes against Black and LGBTQ+ Americans are on the rise," the O'Rourke plan states.

As such, he would mandate that internet platforms "ban hateful activities, defined as those that incite or engage in violence, intimidation, harassment, threats, or defamation targeting an individual or group based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability."

In essence, O'Rourke wants the government to suppress speech that he finds distasteful. But as the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear, "hate speech" is protected by the First Amendment.

Most recently, the Court affirmed that principle in Matal v. Tam, which ruled 8-0 that the Asian-American band The Slants could trademark its name, even though some people found the name to be racially objectionable. In his opinion, Justice Samuel Alito acknowledged that "speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful." However, "the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express 'the thought that we hate.'"

If O'Rourke's plan were to go into effect, tech companies would be forced to clamp down on seemingly hateful comments, should those companies want to keep their liability protections under Section 230. But as the case of The Slants illustrates, those boundaries are impossible to police. The federal government told the Supreme Court that the band's name was too offensive to be trademarked, while Simon Tam, the band's Asian-American founder, said just the opposite, arguing that he wanted to "take ownership" of Asian stereotypes. Who can say decisively what is too offensive for public consumption?

That debate continues to plague a myriad of political matters. Consider the rhetoric around abortion, for instance. After the 2015 shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, politicians and activists placed some of the blame on pro-life protesters, accusing them of inciting violence with their words. Reproaction, a self-described "reproductive justice" group, still has an active petition demanding "an end to abortion terrorism and harassment, and the hate speech and lies fueling them."

As Justice Alito pointed out in Matal v. Tam, certain speech can certainly be unsavory, depending on the listener. That much is clear. But the First Amendment also makes clear that it is not the government's job to decide what is beyond the pale. Regrettably, Beto O'Rourke's plan would empower the government to do that very thing.

NEXT: Do These 21 Mass Shootings That Did Not Happen Show the Benefits of California's 'Red Flag' Law?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. 1. Why does every picture of Beto make him look so smug, like he’s just waiting for the applause to die down and to be anointed as the next Coddler-in-Chief?

    2. He should be careful what he wishes for, or some administration will soon include socialism as hate speech.

    1. >>>every picture of Beto make him look so smug

      seems like he just is.

      1. These slurs are outrageous. The proposed law is in fact perfectly valid, as it is now well established that the government has a right to decide which forms of “speech” are permissible and which ones are so inappropriate that they can, and must, be criminalized. See, for example, the documentation of our nation’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

        https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

    2. Or attacks on white nationalism, white supremacy, and denouncing white privileges.

    3. Adding socialist talk as hate speech is a good idea.

      Socialism is despicable anyways. And if people on the left end up experiencing the target-side of their “no-platform” bullshit, they may rediscover the value of Free Speech.

    4. The photos don’t make him look smug. They merely capture his smugness.

  2. You Southerners are so lucky to have 1A

  3. Beto O’Rourke would like to announce that he would like to remove legal protections from The Supreme Court if they fail to police hate speech online. But Dick Durban and co. beat him to the punch.

  4. OTHER than… “Hi tech” is new and scary and might have cooties…

    …Can anyone explain WHY is it, that “tech” forums should be blamed for what OTHER parties write on their forums? Ink and paper sellers and printing-services for books and newspapers are NOT generally blamed what OTHER people write with the assistance of their goods and services… WHY (besides Luddite-ism and anti-hi-tech paranoia) are there such VASTLY different standards here?

    If “hats” were invented today, they could NOT be marketed, because, um, can you PROVE ABSOLUTELY that they do NOT cause brain cancer, here or in any other conceivable alternate universe?!?!

    Would the anti-freedom self-appointed nannies and ninnies PLEASE just FUCK THE HELL OFF?!?!?

    1. STEWMAC (a luthier site) has the following warning on all their products, even pieces of maple.

      WARNING: Cancer and Reproductive Harm – http://www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.

  5. Certainly the first Amendment was created to only protect speech that everyone agreed was non-offensive to everyone.

    1. And only political speech, but not too much of it, and not the icky kind either.

      1. And yes there is a /sarc belonging there.

  6. But seriously.

    Beto is illustrating why it is a bad idea to mess with CDA 230.

    He wants to take away CDA 230 for companies that are “behaving badly” according to him. But OF COURSE he defines “behaving badly” as “expressing political opinions I don’t like”, when he does something outrageous as lump in Fox News with actual white nationalists. That’s ridiculous.

    This is what will inevitably happen whenever government gets into the censorship business, whether it is direct government censorship, or censorship-via-extortion as imagined by people like Beto or Hawley. They all start with (presumably) well-intentioned motives such as “get rid of hate speech” or “get rid of political bias”, and that will inevitably turn into “get rid of my opponents”, by redefining “hate speech” as “whatever Fox News says”.

    Government cannot be trusted to regulate content on the Internet. Period.

    1. It’s official. Beto’s campaign has shit the bed.

      He started strong but has steadily lost ground and with these sort of dingbat ideas, he’ll soon be behind even the retarded “no skyscrapers”
      NYC mayor.

    2. I don’t want to mess with CDA 230. I just want it enforced in its entirety, including the “good faith” language. That language is already there, part of the law. It just hasn’t been enforced to date.

    3. Government cannot be trusted to regulate content on the Internet. Period.

      Government cannot be trusted, period. – Fixed it for you.

    4. “censorship-via-extortion”

      Nice call! I just ranted about how many people miss the distinction below.

  7. So social media will censor content that reflects virulent hatred of the Progressives for President Trump?

    Probably not.

    Although it’d cut down the comments in the Washington Post by around 90%.

    1. So social media will censor content that reflects virulent hatred of the Progressives for President Trump?

      Oh of course not. The definition of “hate speech” will depend on the regime in charge.

      If it’s Team Blue, then “hate speech” will mean “white nationalism” and Fox News.

      If it’s Team Red, then “hate speech” will mean “communism” and MSNBC.

  8. I hate you Beto O’Rourke! Censor that motherfucker!

    1. Beta O’Rourke is Disco Man……

      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=iDeyF1i5qqM

  9. And I’m sure Jesse will be amused to learn, when he’s done carrying water for Senator Hawley, that he’s now on Team Beto when it comes to a supposed necessity for the government to regulate the content of the Internet.

    1. A bit more than a little disingenuous of Jesse’s position. Jesse argues that by actively censoring they should be treated as publishers and ergo held to the same liability standards as other publishers. This is also Hawley’s position. Beto on the other hand is calling for them to be fined if they don’t censor. Very different reasons and very different standards. But I have come to expect intellectual dishonesty from you.

      1. Hawley’s position is that Big Tech should have their CDA 230 protections withdrawn ONLY IF they are “politically neutral” as deemed by the FCC. And it’s only big platforms, not the small ones, even if both big and small platforms engage in the exact same type of moderation behavior. And this is also Jesse’s position, because Jesse is Hawley’s bootlicker. What does Beto want to do? Withdraw CDA 230 protections for platforms that don’t ban “hate speech”, as of course defined by the FCC. NEITHER ONE is about treating platforms like publishers *as a general rule*. So go stuff it and stop trying to defend the indefensible out of some bullshit tribal nonsense.

        1. *ONLY IF they are NOT “politically neutral”

        2. You are the most tribalist asshole on here. Sorry, I was defending anyone I was pointing out you crass dishonesty and misrepresentation. Rather right or wrong there is a huge fucking difference between the goal of political neutrality and punishing hate speech. Granted it often ends up the same but the motives are largely different. The fact that you try and compare them morally and ethically is pure bullshit. And it is your modus operandi. You have to criticize anyone who doesn’t buy into your side. You calling others partisan and tribalist is just rank hypocrisy on your side. Since Jesse wasn’t even commenting and this was a story about Beto, your original post was peurile Whataboutism. It was partisan and dishonest. It had no redeeming value other than virtue signaling. And it was comparing apples to oranges.
          Rather you like it or not, Hawley believes his approach is treating them as publishers. He doesn’t state they have to be political neutral, they can choose not to be, but then they loose liability protection. Since publishers don’t have this liability protection to begin with, it is giving platforms the same lack of protection that publishers have. You can disagree with his reasoning but it is an argument of definitions and perception. To pretend otherwise is not being honest. You tend to demand everyone agree to your definition and your perception. If they don’t you call them “bootlickers”, tribalist, partisan, etc. You have a sophomoric approach to debate and try to pass of sophistry as intelligence. The truly intelligent person is most critical of their own stance, and does not require others to only adhere to their definitions and perceptions.
          Final question, why is Hawley’s or Jesse’s position indefensible? Who made you the arbiter of defensibility of a position? You claim to be against authoritarian behavior then arbitrarily decide what is and isn’t acceptable debate and what definition others must use. You demand that others view the world the same as your and when they don’t you prescribe evil intent to their views.
          Also, as someone else has pointed out (and as others have already pointed out to you, but you seem to choose to ignore) currently section 230 only provides protections if the editing is done “in good faith”. This is not, however, how the law is being used. In fact, progressive judges are using the law to squash all lawsuits against these platforms, including legitimate breach of contract. This abuse of power and extra-judicial protection is hardly Libertarian. It is, however, partisan.

          1. Pedo Jeffy really manages to combine being disingenuous, naive, and cynical at the same time, yet demising none of those qualities.

    2. I would argue that Hawley joined Team Democrat and O’Rourke is just doing the same.

  10. I hope someone with better judgment and better insight concerning the applicable law improves Beto O’Rourke’s position and view in this context.

    1. “someone with better judgment and better insight” would see this as a violation of our fundamental right of free speech and ridicule his authoritarian beliefs for being antithetical to the freedoms and rights we have as Americans.

      Or did you mean a more persuasive autocrat?

    2. Most people hope someone will shoot you in the face and take a giant dump on your worthless corpse.

  11. Beto is a jerk. Worse, he is like an oozing wound, and his ideas poison the minds and very spirit of those who surround him. He needs to crawl into a hole and die. Now, ban me. Or am I being sarcastic? Only the algorithms know for sure…..

    1. I don’t know- oozing wounds sometimes get better. I doubt O’Rourke will.

    2. How anyone takes that inane trust-funded doofus seriously on any issue is beyond comprehension.

  12. Few are confused as to him not being a serious candidate, and the clickbait-y garbage he spews is simply designed to keep him in the national “conversation.” He has, literally, decades to simply hang around and grow into a John Kerry-esque doofus, as opposed to being the J.V. doofus he is. He’s not alone in this type of role, however there are only 24 already-saturated hours in the day and we could be forced to pay attention to other people and their non-disingenuous, serious policy proposals.

  13. Who Beto, determines what is hate speech and what is not? As far as I am concerned an inordinate amount of hate speech is coming from the left when it comes to President Trump.

  14. Thank you
    Visit the Official brefuni News , Find all sports news 24/7 and the latest sports news and breaking sports stories including Football, Tennis, F1, Golf and Rugby : https://brefuni.com

  15. Beto = white Obama (at least in his mind)

  16. Beto is a special kind of stupid. You cannot censor “hate speech” because the definition is subjective. What one person calls hate speech another calls political speech. The 1st amendment protects speech, especially offensive speech, because the Founders knew only true liberty exists when everyone is permitted to speak freely for and against their government and it leaders. Censorship is a slippery slope that ends when only certain people are permitted to speak and all others are punished. That is the country the left seeks to create.

    1. There’s a difference between “stupid” and “dangerous”. Of course you can censor “hate speech”; The process won’t be objective, and it will certainly violate the 1st amendment, but do you think the 1st amendment is going to survive the next Democratic “trifecta”, when they control the House, Senate, and White house?

      No, of course it isn’t going to survive that. They’re going to pack the Court with rubber stamps, and then institute full blown political censorship.

      In the mean time, this signals to platforms like FB that if Beta wins, the DOJ will have their back when they go all out censoring the right.

  17. The Right wants to remove protections if you censor. The Left wants to do the opposite.

    This is not both sides. These aren’t even comparable

  18. To me, Beto looks like the grown-up version of spoiled frat boys who think they can get out of any trouble by using their father’s money/name.

  19. It’s good to see O’Rourke finally aligning himself with the Democratic mainstream. He has to do something to resurrect his flop of a campaign.

    Oh, obligatory: WHO?!!

  20. If O’Rourke’s plan were to go into effect, tech companies would be forced to clamp down on seemingly hateful comments

    They already are…

  21. The article is innacurate in a way that makes the case against the government even stronger.

    “In essence, O’Rourke wants the government to suppress speech that he finds distasteful. ”

    The government doesn’t want to suppress speech: if they did, they would police this themselves. No, like many other government activities, you’re giving them too much credit: knowing they can’t do shit themselves, they are extorting others to do their work for them. I am continually baffled by the failure of both libertarians and mainstreamers to gloss over the most obvious observation: the government doesn’t actually enforce almost *any* of their own laws. They don’t collect taxes – instead they extort corporations into collecting withholding and sales taxes, and individuals into self-reporting their taxes. They don’t actually enforce fraud laws: instead, credit card companies have to do this or else get robbed blind. They don’t enforce the stupid gun laws that they’ve made: they make it a criminal act for a shopkeeper to not enforce them. Liquor laws: same. In this case, speech laws: the same.

    There is a giant difference between the rules they would like enforced and how and by whom they are actually enforced. I understand the libertarian ire against the laws themselves; but I hold that a more pragmatic and effective way to roll them back would be to attack the government’s enforcement mechanisms. If they had to knock on each person’s door and say “this is how much tax you owe us”, for example, they would *never* be able to accomplish that. Poof, there goes taxes and there goes government.

  22. Just get rid of section 230 for anyone that isn’t an ISP. It’s not needed for free speech. If someone wants to speak freely online they can make their own website, host it, and be liable for what they put out there. As of now they’re acting like other’s paying for their speech platforms is a right. If one doesn’t want misinformation spread and people getting radicalized then why the hell are they offering them platforms that aren’t liable for what appears on them?
    We do not need social media. We would be better off without it and we can easily remove it by dropping section 230 protections. It’s backwards thinking from both parties. Just rip out the root cause.

  23. State sponsored news through regulation

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.