Section 230

Joe Biden Has Officially Joined the Misguided Crusade Against Online Free Speech

In comments to CNN on Monday night, Biden expressed a willingness to smash Section 230 in order to settle a feud his campaign is having with Facebook. That's a terrible idea.

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In an effort to force Facebook to change its policy towards negative ads targeting his campaign, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is apparently willing to trash the federal law that guarantees free speech online.

It's the latest sign that even supposedly liberal centrist politicians are willing to join forces with the far right to rewrite the rules for online speech.

Biden's campaign and Facebook have been feuding for weeks over Facebook's policy of allowing political campaigns to buy ads on the site to spread possibly false information. In a letter to Facebook last month, Biden's campaign called on the social media site to reject political ads containing "previously debunked content"—like a Trump campaign ad linking Biden and his son, Hunter, to corruption in Ukraine.

In response, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company's policies were "grounded in Facebook's fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is."

Apparently unsatisfied, Biden has stepped up his criticism of Facebook. On Monday night, the former vice president told a CNN town hall that he'd be willing to rewrite the rules for all online platforms in order to force social media companies to "be more socially conscious."

"I just think it's a little out of hand," Biden continued. "And I, for one, think we should be considering taking away the exception that they cannot be sued for knowingly engaged on (sic), in promoting something that's not true."

The exemption that Biden is talking about is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. It is the First Amendment for the online world. Just 26 words long, Section 230 promises that online platforms will not be held liable for content provided by users or other publishers.

Biden knows all about Section 230, or at least he should. He voted for it in 1995.

But this is more than just a flip-flop on a decades-old vote. In calling for Section 230 to be rewritten or abandoned, Biden is giving cover to illiberal politicians who want to undermine the promise of digital free speech—and, in the process, give significant power to government to police speech online.

As Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown has written, the effort to carve away at Section 230 is backed by lawmakers on both the right and left. Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) are in many ways leading the effort, but Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) has also voiced her support for making online platforms liable for content created by users.

In practice, stripping away Section 230 protections likely would result in platforms significantly restricting the content they would host. It would also create a different standard for websites that does not exist for other forms of media.

"Holding Facebook liable for a user's false statement is like holding CNN liable if candidate Biden made a false statement on their Town Hall last night," says Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for NetChoice, a nonprofit that favors digital free speech.

Indeed, newspapers and TV stations are not held liable for false statements made in campaign ads—which seems to be the standard Biden wants to impose on digital platforms—but are free to reject ads if they choose. Facebook and Google should be no different.

The internet didn't create lying politicians or false political ads. It's understandable that Biden is frustrated with Facebook's policy toward ads targeting his campaign, but that's not a good reason to scrap the federal policies that have allowed the internet to grow and prosper for decades. And since Biden had a hand in crafting that law in the first place, he really ought to know better.

NEXT: U.S. Diplomat Bill Taylor: It Was 'Crazy' To Freeze Aid to Ukraine 'for Help With a Political Campaign'

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  1. Biden is apparently willing to trash the federal law that guarantees free speech online.

    The first amendment guarantees free speech online.

    1. The 1A doesn’t apply to online speech because I don’t want it to.

      /Prog.

      1. Part of why dirty hippies need beatings.

    2. Biden’s take on free speech is “thought I could have some of that speech for my speech”

    3. 1A guarantees YOU freedom of speech, it doesn’t guarantee you a platform from which to speak it. Facebook and others control what you can publish. Their 1A right is not to be punished IF they publish it. But I’m more concerned about Rule 34.

      1. Who says someone has to give me a “platform?”

        1. They certainly do not have to. But to get Section 230 protections, they do.

  2. I think we can all rest assured that, if Biden becomes President, he won’t remember any of this.. or even what he had for breakfast that morning.

    1. But his handlers, Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman, will!

      1. I was going to say that they’d be busy marionetting RBG around, but then I realized if Biden becomes president they won’t need to continue that farce – so, I guess, they’d be available to move it on to the white house

    2. Which is perfect actually. My ideal president actually only works a couple afternoons a week. The rest of the time he could hobnob with visiting dignitaries, play golf, and smile confidently. Kinda like Reagan in the later years.

  3. … Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. It is the First Amendment for the online world.

    That’s not true. The first amendment is the first amendment for the online world. In reality, Section 230

    promises that online platforms will not be held liable for content provided by users or other publishers.

    1. Just subpeonaed, intimidated and threatened when some mindless mystical infiltrator makes noises about chippering judges?

  4. “willing to trash the federal law that guarantees free speech online.”

    Isn’t the 1st amendment enough ?
    Apparently not.,

    1. the second isn’t enough
      the fourth isn’t enough
      the tenth isn’t enough
      etc

  5. Biden knows the value of keeping his mouth shut.

  6. Hawley wants to threaten social.mefia with repealing 230 so that they will apply their policies in a more transparent and equitable way. Biden wants to rescind 230 so that criticism against him and his party can be suppressed. They quite diffeent end results even if you think Hawley is misguided about what the effect of his policy would be.

  7. https://www.metrotimes.com/detroit/michigan-police-say-marijuana-legalization-has-made-their-jobs-harder/Content?oid=23093983

    Michigan cops thankful for legal marijuana making their jobs much easier. Just kidding.

    “We haven’t investigated a marijuana case in more than a year,” he said. “We’re in absolute limbo in terms of law enforcement.”

    “Before recreational became legal, we might have been doing search warrants, but everything seems to be gray and cloudy until the courts rule on the new laws.”

    “[But] when we come across people that are 21 and older and actually have it legally that’s where it’s kind of hard to deal with it in that aspect.”

    1. “I mean, here’s this guy sitting here, doing something totally legal, and what am I supposed to do about that? It’s disorienting and kind of scary.”

  8. https://www.freerodneyreed.com

    This guy will be executed and it was probably a cop who actually committed the murder.

  9. “Holding Facebook liable for a user’s false statement is like holding CNN liable if candidate Biden made a false statement on their Town Hall last night,”

    or like holding Remington liable if somebody shoots up a school.

    1. A government school… Come to think of it, has any collectivist whack job or unstable preppie ever shot up a private school?

  10. “I, for one, think we should be considering taking away [Facebook’s] exemption that they cannot be sued for knowingly engaged on, in promoting something that’s not true.”

    Hmm. What does Joe think about taking away [a civil servant’s] exemption that they cannot be sued for knowingly engaged on, in promoting something that’s not true?

  11. This not surprising, given the fact that were it not for the internet 99% of Americans would have never heard of Hunter Biden.

    Grandpa Joe is from the days when the Big 3 networks and their major newspaper allies could control the flow of information and shape the opinions of the unwashed masses.

    It’s no wonder he seeks to destroy the medium that has scuttled his presidential ambitions.

    1. “Grandpa Joe is from the days when the Big 3 networks and their major newspaper allies could control the flow of information and shape the opinions of the unwashed masses.”

      We certainly ever heard about JFK screwing around from his buddies at the TV networks and newspapers.

    2. “Joe is from the days when the Big 3 networks and their major newspaper allies could control the flow of information and shape the opinions of the unwashed masses.”

      I surely do miss those days. Uncle Joe in the rockin’ chair waiting for the train whistle tellin’ him the girls will be coming back to the Junction from their shoppin’ trip in town.

  12. Yeah, but he’s not orange and uncouth.

    1. Has Trump actually been orange lately?

  13. Biden’s campaign called on the social media site to reject political ads containing “previously debunked content”—like a Trump campaign ad linking Biden and his son, Hunter, to corruption in Ukraine.

    has this been previously debunked? Or is the concept of a oft-relapsing meth-head of a Veep’s son with no industry experience holding a $50k a month job for a foreign oil company utterly beyond reproach?

    1. It’sDebunkedIt’sOldNewsWhyAreYouStillTalkingAboutIt?

  14. Reason has officially become a progressive site.

    1. Funny how it’s always anonymous, unemployable, libertarian impersonators who sagely broadcast these pearls.

  15. Section 230 is not the “Internet’s First Amendment” no matter how many times you try to claim that it is.

  16. Biden knows all about Section 230, or at least he should. He voted for it in 1995.

    Yeah, but he is brain-damaged, literally. We can overlook that. /sarc

  17. “Biden’s campaign called on the social media site to reject political ads containing “previously debunked content”—like a Trump campaign ad linking Biden and his son, Hunter, to corruption in Ukraine.”

    You can’t write this stuff as fiction. No one would buy it. In real life, the political farce has now been perfected thanks to Joe Biden.

    Meanwhile, Biden’s public statements on camera are already more damning than anything we’ve seen in testimony against Trump.

    If Trump were removed from office and Biden somehow won the election, then Biden should be impeached for doing what Trump is accused of doing–only more so.

  18. Just in case people haven’t heard it for themselves:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnIPw_Who7E

    It’s a freaking confession!

    1. Plus, you’ve got Hunter saying Burisma wouldn’t have hired him if he weren’t the VP’s son

  19. “It’s the latest sign that even supposedly liberal centrist politicians are willing to join forces with the far right to rewrite the rules for online speech.”

    Luckily, the Left is all about free speech, just look at the candidates for the Democrat nomination and the atmosphere on college campuses. Those crafty righties, I guess they pose as lefties to successfully shut down any speech they don’t like.

    Why, I once read an article in an obscure magazine that said that every Democrat in the Senate supported a a Constitutional Amendment that would radically curtail freedom of speech. https://reason.com/2019/08/12/every-democrat-in-the-senate-supports-a-constitutional-amendment-that-would-radically-curtail-freedom-of-speech/. Are the Dem Senators hard right, too?

    PS – Eric, hope you hear back from the Daily Beast or the Washington Post soon.

  20. BIDEN IMPLODING!

  21. Section 230 is not a support for speech freedom. It undermines speech freedom. By enabling publishing online content without first reading it, and by creating de facto immunity from liability for defamation, Section 230 guarantees an internet full of defamatory publications, which do real damage, both to targeted people, and to bystanders damaged by happenstance.

    Mostly, that damage can never be made whole. Not at all surprisingly, that embitters the people damaged, who do not forget. Neither do their friends and relatives, who are shocked to discover that a good business, or a good marriage, can be maliciously wrecked with no recourse.

    The internet is full of folks who never understood that defamation has never been protected speech. A law which gives practical immunity to publishers of defamation thus can do nothing to keep protected speech from being diminished. Instead, it mixes existing protected speech with a new class of swill, which brings all published speech into question. That creates ever-growing pressure for government censorship (that pressure being the subject of this article, actually).

    Government censorship is the speech peril to guard against. Repealing Section 230 would notably reduce the now-widespread pressure on government to become a censor.

    1. So your idea here is that we should use court rulings, monetary damages and injunctions, enforced by government agents, to cut down on undesirable speech, because otherwise, the government might be tempted to pass laws that would be enforced by government agents, who would then take people to court.

      It’s basically just a dumb thuggish threat: let us sue Facebook, or we’ll start jailing people. Not very convincing, especially since you’d still insist on the right to sue anyway.

  22. Boehm doesn’t understand how the Communications Decency Act works. Yes, it was intended to immunize internet service providers from liability for defamatory speech posted by others, which on its face seems a good thing. The problem is, it goes too far. It specifically provides immunity for “any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.” In other words, it gives the ISP (Facebook or whoever) a free hand to determine what _it_ considers to be “objectionable”, and allows suppression of such content even if it is “constitutionally protected.” But when the ISP to makes such an editorial decision, it is de facto endorsing all the other speech which it allows to be posted. Thus is should be liable for any defamation contained there.

    Immunity should only be available for ISPs which exercise absolutely no editorial control over the contents, with the sole exception of content which is objectively illegal, such as advertising murder for hire, child pornography, etc.

    Furthermore, when the government grants legal immunity for the suppression of constitutionally-protected speech (which the CDA explicitly does), it is in fact an accessory to such suppression and is thus violating the 1st Amendment. In my opinion this portion of the CDA is unconstitutional.

  23. Senator Bob Dole, a Just Say No groupie, placed on the 9/26/1986 agenda S.AMDT.3034, to strengthen the laws against illegal drugs, and for other purposes. Then Biden insisted on S.AMDT.3092 tweaking Dole’s meddling. A year later the Omnibus Drug Enforcement, Education, and Control Act of 1986 hits, the market crashed and Biden on October 21, 1987 puts the Federal Criminal Fines and Sentencing Act on the calendar, which passed as the entire economy collapsed. Why not look at that–if you can find it? Mandatory minimums, asset forfeiture, the whole enchilada is in there somewhere.

  24. As I understand it, internet discussion sites must adhere to the constitutional principle of free speech as defined in the 1st Amendment, except for the indecency part. And if they allow any decent conversation, they cannot be held responsible for the content. But if they prohibit stuff like political discourse during an election campaign, they accept responsibility for whatever is allowed. Of course, they could be prosecuted for libel and other consequences.

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