Section 230

Pelosi Reportedly Wants To Strip Online Free Speech Protections From Trade Deal

Gutting the trade deal would make it easier to strip our speech protections here at home.

|

The new trade pact between the United States, Canada, and Mexico is a mixed bag, but one of its undeniably excellent components is a provision that effectively exports American protections for online free speech to other countries.

But Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) is reportedly pushing to cut that language from the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) before Congress votes on the new trade deal. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier today that Pelosi is considering removing the liability protections for online platforms from the trade deal because including that language might make it more difficult for lawmakers to hack away at those same protections domestically.

"There are concerns in the House about enshrining the increasingly controversial…liability shield in our trade agreements, particularly at a time when Congress is considering whether changes need to be made in U.S. law," a spokesman for Pelosi told the Journal.

As I've written before, the USMCA—as well as a new trade deal between the U.S. and Japan—will include provisions shielding tech companies from liability for content, similar to the protections offered by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Though it's not a simple copy/paste, the trade deals effectively duplicate Section 230's promise that platforms will not be held liable for user-created content—like videos posted to YouTube or comments made at the bottom of this article.

This matters because Section 230 is basically the internet's First Amendment. Putting that language into trade deals would allow online platforms doing business across North America to operate under the same legal standard, and would help establish that standard on the wider web. There are already competing legal frameworks out there—the European Union, for example, requires online firms to abide by more stringent regulations, and there is nothing free or open about China's online space. Those differing legal frameworks for the digital world are inevitably going to clash with one another, and binding together governments to protect free speech online makes a lot of sense.

"The inclusion of Section 230 language in the USMCA is a win-win for all signatories," says Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for NetChoice, an advocacy group that favors the inclusion of online liability protections in trade deals. "Consumers gain access to an abundance of online content, and businesses can connect directly to customers using e-commerce marketplaces and social media marketing."

But beyond those more esoteric reasons for including Section 230-ish language in America's trade deals, Pelosi's attempt to cut it for domestic reasons also doesn't make sense. Putting liability protections in trade deals does not mean Congress can't rewrite Section 230. Indeed, lawmakers frequently debate or rewrite domestic laws that are similar to provisions included in trade deals. Having intellectual property protections written into NAFTA, for example, has not stopped Congress from adjusting copyright laws in America.

Right now, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pressing to make changes to Section 230 in a misguided attempt at holding tech platforms like Google and Facebook legally liable for comments, tweets, and Facebook posts. That would be a change for the worse here in American, and it doesn't make sense for Pelosi to weaken the USMCA just so rank-and-file Democrats (and Republicans) can strip Section 230 protections here in America too.

Advertisement

NEXT: California Court of Appeal decides Vaquero, an interesting private-delegation case

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. The Internet’s First Amendment is actually the real First Amendment, not section 230. One of the marvels of the real Constitution, as opposed to the court-interpreted one, is its simplicity.

    1. Yeah, like something as simple as “shall not be infringed” has generated millions of lines of laws, regulations, and court filings.

    2. The First Amendment doesn’t shield people from liability for what they’ve said.

      Section 230 shields hosting services (such as YouTube, Facebook, and the Reason comment section) from liability for what users say.

      If you want un-moderated comment sections, then the First Amendment is not sufficient.

      1. 230 has expanded way past just that, which you know but refuse to admit. It has also shielded the favored companies from contract law and personal liability for their own actions as seen in the Megan Murphy suit.

      2. The problem with Section 230 isn’t Section 230. It’s that they’ve never enforced that “in good faith” language, but instead let the services have the protection of Section 230 even if they moderate in bad faith, like engaging in political censorship.

        1. It has also allowed information content providers to claim immunity because they also sometimes act as internet service providers.

    3. This headlines would have gotten a lot more clicks if it was five words shorter. Do you even clickbait , Eric?

      1. “Pelosi Wants to Strip” would have made a much shorter, sexier headline! “Pelosi and Hillary Strip-Tease-Dance Together” might be going too far, though…

        “Pelosi Reportedly Wants To Strip Online Free Speech Protections From Trade Deal” … GAH!!! TOTALLY boring and NOT sexy at ALL!!!

        1. ““Pelosi Wants to Strip” would have made a much shorter, sexier headline!”

          No! Ick.

          Maybe Gabbard or AOC, but NOT Pelosi.

  2. >>Right now, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle

    sides of the aisle sure.

    >>has not stopped Congress

    what does?

    1. 5th grade math questions?

  3. “There are concerns in the House about enshrining the increasingly controversial…liability shield”

    Any concerns about the increasingly flowery bullshit?

  4. I, for one, applaud her. With sites like 4 Chan, 8 Chan, porn hub, and whatthefuckshouldimakefordinner, the clingers clearly cannot be trusted. The only current website that is correctly combating wrong think is Twitter. Pelosi should propose an ammendment that gets rid of the 1st and adopts twitters TOS.

  5. Trump’s fault.

    1. To a degree, yes, actually.

      Trump, and his attacks on the media, “alternative facts”, “fake news”, statements about slander/libel, etc. and so-on jump-started the public conversation about the liability of hosting services in general and Section 230 specifically.

      It’s quite possible that without Trump, and his constant “the networks are the enemy of the people” rhetoric, that the status quo would have continued unchallenged.

      Please note, I’m not bothering to weigh in on whether Section 230 is good/bad†, just pointing out that we probably wouldn’t be having the conversation were it not for President Trump.
      _________
      †That’s a pointless conversation to try and have here.

      1. Well, YOU wouldn’t.

      2. This started, in part, with calls by the left for social media to regulate hate speech, particularly in the aftermath of Trump winning, but mostly, it was about the idea that if the American people hadn’t been lied to by fake news and the Russians, they would have elected Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump.

        The First Rule of Progressive Club: The American people want what we want.

        The Second Rule of Progressive Club: If the American people don’t want what we want, see The First Rule of Progressive Club.

        This started because the left could not and would not accept the fact that the American people voted for Donald Trump, in no small part, because they hate progressives, and the social justice warriors who control the Democratic Party can’t stop hating the white, blue collar, middle class–because doing so is the whole point of being a social justice warrior.

        . . . so they’re trying to ban speech instead.

        1. This happened before Trump. The democrats moved hard to push companies to do their political bidding over the Obama years. Obama played a big role in this, particularly via “operation choke point”, which demonstrated the left’s willingness to go outside the lines in order to force conformity from the business community. Since the program ended, companies have not ended the practices pushed on them by the program. Once bitten, and all that.

          Obama also used threats to steal $30 billion from GM’s creditors immediately after taking office. He told GM’s secured creditors that they had to take a complete loss rather than enforcing their rights, or he would use his office to bankrupt their companies. They believed him an walked away from $30 billion.

          This is the environment that we live in now. Media companies have always been friendly to democrats. But in the Obama era, they have dramatically changed. They went from being friendly to the left to being openly partisan and directly propagandist. They have become so inured to the whole thing that they openly talk about it. The NYT openly talked about spending 3 years trying to bring Trump down using the Russia allegations and talked of their search for another angle to use to bring Trump down, finally settling on Racism as their new angle. This resulted in their 1619 initiative which was picked up and parroted across most major outlets.

          So this has been a huge push across multiple fronts from the far left for many, many years. They are having a lot of success in the endeavor as well.

          Covering reactions from the right as if they exist in a bubble is pretty common around here, but it misses the forest in order to examine a single tree. Someone, somewhere had better start leading the principled push back, or we are going to get some really horrible legislation to address the issue, and from that moment forward, whichever party is in power will be working hard to subvert and expand that legislation to their advantage.

      3. Holy shit you’re fucking ignorant. LGBT groups have had much more steam on the fights against youtube and others you ignorant fuck.

  6. This article is so misleading. Pelosi doesn’t oppose free speech, she opposes allowing corporations to publish whatever they damn well please, including misleading or dishonest information. We want to prevent sites like Facebook and InfoWars from publishing BS conspiracy theories. Reason is pretending to care about free speech, but really just protecting corporate interests from having to ensure that their web publications are honest.

    1. Pelosi doesn’t oppose free speech, she opposes allowing corporations to publish whatever they damn well please

      Yeh, wut?

      1. Remember, people lose their rights when they use their power of assembly to join other people.

    2. “We want to prevent sites like Facebook and InfoWars from publishing BS conspiracy theories.”

      We understand your position clearly.

      You believe that individual rights should only be protected insofar as doing so is in the interest of the greater good.

      Neither I nor my rights exist for your greater good, and violating other people’s rights would still be the definition of evil–even if doing so were in the best interests of most people.

      Fuck you.

      . . . and I mean that sincerely.

    3. We want to prevent sites like Facebook and InfoWars from publishing BS conspiracy theories.

      Do we? What about theories about Russian collusion?

      1. I believe those were hypotheses since there was no supporting evidence.

    4. she opposes allowing corporations to publish whatever they damn well please, including misleading or dishonest information

      Washington Post and NYT hardest hit.

    5. Have you ever read 1984?

    6. I’m not sure that you understand “free speech”.

      1. It’s whatever Nancy Pelosi says it is, duh.

  7. Even those of us who support Section 230 might oppose inflicting its logic on other countries by way of a trade agreement. However, we would be wrong to do so.

    Elitism is holding the opinions of average people in contempt. I don’t condone elitism. Moreover, inflicting unpopular policies on the people of other countries against their will by way of a trade agreement is often a great way to turn them against international trade. Look no further than Brexit for an excellent example of that.

    There should be a clear division, however, between things that should be subjected to popularity contests and things that shouldn’t. For instance, the government should not be able to inflict war, taxes, or naturalization policies on their people without the people’s consent by way of democratically elected representatives. Societies can’t really be free if governments can inflict these things on their people without their consent by way of elected representatives–at least.

    On the other hand, there are things which shouldn’t be subjected to popularity contests under any circumstances. The framers of our Constitution did a great job spelling this out in regards to religion and speech by way of the First Amendment, which is why it begins, “Congress shall make no law”. Societies can’t really be free if the religions and speech of individuals are circumscribed by being subjected to popularity contests. Making laws that violate people’s rights to religion and speech are outside the proper purview of democracy.

    You all see the difference clearly between the EU inflicting an immigration policy on the people of the UK over their objections and against their will, on the one hand, and the United States insisting that Canada and Mexico respect the online speech of American citizens–as well as the free speech of their own people, too–don’t you?

    Free societies require that free people are able to set their own immigration policies as they see fit, so when the EU inflicted its immigration policies on the people of the UK, it did so on an issue that was within the proper purview of democracy. They showed contempt for the opinions of average people on an issue that was well within the purview of democracy.

    On the other hand, if a treaty with Canada and Mexico insists that those governments respect the speech of their own people by way of a treaty with the United States, the U.S. isn’t inflicting something outside the proper purview of democracy at all. Those governments are violating the right of their own people to speak freely anyway, and if violating the speech of minorities is wildly popular within Canada or Mexico, that’s no different than the popularity of violating their speech of Americans in the USA.

    We shouldn’t shed a single tear for the inability of the Canadian and Mexican governments to violate the free speech rights of their own people–regardless of whether violating someone’s free speech rights is wildly popular.

    1. Unfortunately, beyond self-serving politicians (any other kind?), we have a population of adults with a child-like understanding of our political system, manifest in a 2nd grade infatuation with “democracy”. Beyond all the meanings that word has taken on in 21st century America, like “fairness” and “equality”, too may people DO believe that every issue and human relationship should be decided by a popularity contest.

      1. I take some comfort in the realization that the negative consequences of violating people’s speech and religious rights hit those who violate them regardless of whether they realize they exist.

        It’s basically like the laws of economics and the Soviet Union. Regardless of whether you believe in them, violating the right of people to make choices for themselves (in the form of markets in this case) will destroy you. Even the Chinese communists, who were even more ideological in their own way, picked up on that eventually–denying reality by violating people’s property rights has negative consequences no matter what the law says.

        North Korea is not a better place to live because they violate the speech rights of their people, and other countries that violate the speech rights of their people to a lesser extent still suffer the negatives consequences of doing so.

        Once you make it clear to people that respect for their religious rights depends on the religion of whomever is in control of the government, the religion of whomever is in control of the government becomes an important issue. If ISIS could have found their way to respecting the right the Shia who lived among them, they might still be in control of large chunks of Iraq and Syria today. The Thirty Years War taught the west (and Madison) the same lesson.

        And speech is the same way. Because the negative consequences of restricting it aren’t always as dramatic doesn’t mean they aren’t negative. The Chinese government is so scared that the rest of China will turn into Hong Kong, they’re cracking down on speech to the extent that they risk turning the rest of the country into Hong Kong. If political speech deemed “hate speech” is restricted here in the U.S., the negative consequences may not be as dramatic, but then again, you’re likely to see people turn to authoritarian alternatives in the U.S., too, if they don’t think that liberal society will tolerate the expression of their views.

        I maintain that the reason we don’t have big, anti-immigrant parties in the U.S. like they do in France, Germany, Italy, and the UK is because they have laws against hate speech and we don’t. Point being, it doesn’t matter whether liberals believe that gravity exists. If they jump off a cliff, they’re going splat no matter what they believe. Our rights are the same way. We know our rights are real because violating them has consistent consequences cross culturally and throughout history. If liberals think the only thing stopping them from violating our rights is the Constitution, they’re terribly mistaken.

        1. “North Korea is not a better place to live because they violate the speech rights of their people…”

          Sad to say, North Korea ***IS*** a better place to live, for lack of free speech, but only for Kim Ill Dung-Breath and his Top Minions… Because with more freedoms in that sad land, they would all be hanging from lamp-posts!

    2. Free societies require that free people are able to set their own immigration policies as they see fit, so when the EU inflicted its immigration policies on the people of the UK, it did so on an issue that was within the proper purview of democracy. They showed contempt for the opinions of average people on an issue that was well within the purview of democracy.

      I agree, but for a different reason.

      Immigration is an issue of property rights. A people has the right to limit access to their property. When the EU forces open borders they violate the UKs right to control their property. The control of commonly held property is within the purview of democracy. Individual property is controlled by the individual.

      Speech is largely an individual issue, which is completely unfettered, just like the control of individually owned property. The only commonly produced speech are government edicts, that are subject to democracy at the election. Private corporations control their common speech however they please through voluntary contracts.

    3. A trade agreement is exactly that, an agreement between two or more parties over trade. Both sides agree to certain conditions so that they can do business with each other. For example, one country may have problems with doing business with a country that allows child labor, so the agreement includes anti-child labor laws. If a country has problems with these provisions, then they can exit the agreement and stop trading with each other.

  8. https://www.nationalreview.com/news/clinton-donors-charged-in-massive-campaign-finance-scheme/

    Very interesting and newsworthy, no?

    One of those charged, George Nader, is a Lebanese American businessman who was a witness in the Mueller report. Nader was also caught in 2018 in possession of child pornography, but received partial immunity in exchange for testimony in the Mueller investigation. He faces between 15 to 40 years in prison if convicted on child-pornography charges.

    1. Palin hardest hit.

  9. “Gutting the trade deal would make it easier to strip our speech protections here at home.”

    Boehm is absolutely right about this.

    There are concerns about the Canadian and Mexican governments putting a chilling effect on speech in the U.S. through regulation of websites and platforms that are available internationally, but that isn’t the primary concern.

    The First Amendment is already a big hurdle to ban “hate speech”. Why would Pelosi want additional protections for free speech put in to an international trade agreement that becomes part of the highest law of the land once it’s ratified by the Senate?

    And let’s remember what the progressives consider hate speech. Opposing affirmative action is racist hate speech. Opposing gay marriage is homophobic hate speech. Support for building a wall on our southern border is xenophobic hate speech.

    Being a progressive is all about using the coercive power of government to force individuals to make sacrifices for the greater good–as they see it. And, yes, the real reason Pelosi doesn’t want language protecting our speech online is because she hopes to silence individuals she doesn’t like and stop them from speaking their minds online.

    1. Remember folks, many elected democrats have called for the repeal of the first amendment. They are that serious about policing speech.

      When you combine this with their penchant for defining “hate speech” in terms of “things I disagree with”, well, the threat should be rather clear.

  10. Look, I’m as in favor of free speech rights as the next guy, but whoever wrote that headline should suffer. When your first line says “Pelosi Reportedly Wants To Strip Online”, you need to be held responsible for the projectile vomiting and buying me a new keyboard, you evil bastard.

    1. My display reads “Pelosi Reportedly Wants to Strip Online Free”. It still nauseates but at least seems a fair price.

  11. Apparently, for several decades it’s been a thing to call a treaty something else and let Congress approve it by joint resolution, which is why it’s Pelosi’s business in the first place.

    One day we’ll go back to the idea that the Senate ratifies treaties, and only by 2/3 vote. But that is based on a Constitution that’s like 100 years old or whatever.

    OK, as for treaty protections for free expression – since there’s an international competition of More Censory Than Thou, the North American republics can at least push back and actually take a pro-speech position for once. Though I doubt that would happen.

    We’ll probably sink to Europe’s level, or maybe China’s.

    1. Oops, Canada isn’t a republic it has a queen.

      And its monarch is Elizabeth II, hi-yo!

      1. I think Canada’s parliamentary system qualifies as a republic.

  12. Have you noticed that Reason, 3 days into its fundraiser, claims to have raised over a half of the money it wants?

    I suspect it’s not the commenters making these donations, but I could be wrong.

    1. The average is pretty amazing, $125,000 from about 500 people.

      1. $100k from 498 – there was the $25k matching donation.

  13. …platforms will not be held liable for user-created content—like videos posted to YouTube or comments made at the bottom of this article.

    Preet Bahara should be fed feet-first into a woodchipper.

  14. I like this article, save one detail. Nobody wants to hold tech companies liable for what their users post.

    What they want to do is force tech companies to be more friendly to their political party. In the case of the democrats, they want to force the tech companies to restrict and eliminate speech from conservative and republican voices. And libertarian voices too, lest anyone here feel immune.

    What Republicans want to do is use the government (via threat of lawsuits) to force the tech companies to allow conservative and republican voices without blocking them or interfering with others hearing them.

    Although much of the rhetoric is the same – these are two very, very different ways of arriving at the same place. As civil libertarians we should recognize the distinction an the difference it makes to the threat to freedom of expression in the internet age.

    1. What Republicans want to do is use the government (via threat of lawsuits) to force the tech companies to allow conservative and republican voices without blocking them or interfering with others hearing them.

      Bullshit. Republicans just want to subject online platforms to the same civil liability as any other platform. There is nothing un-libertarian about that.

  15. The protections that Trump wanted. That evil bastard trying to protect free speech

  16. Did I miss something? WTF is this stupid old bint yammering about. The President makes the treaties, the Senate ratifies or not. The House has no role.

    1. Your sure about that? That same bint was lecturing me yesterday about the Constitution. She sure seems to know what she is talking about; she couldn’t possibly be wrong with all that knowledge botoxed into her brain.

  17. To Strip Online Free Speech ProtectionsRegulatory Capture From Trade Deal

    FTFY

    1. Isn’t she enhancing regulatory capture?

  18. How is it that this evil bitch is third in line for the presidency?

    1. Another evil bitch lost her bid to be No 1?

      1. Did a house fall on her?

        1. No, her mask slipped one too many times.

  19. The politicians are going to use the Nazi argument and fake news, but it’s about the porn. No politician wants to be the porno politician so they’re going to focus on things other than that. It just so happens that if Himmler Jr. can post his manifesto he can also post pics of his girlfriend blowing him. If they’re both 15 just the act is their right, but even those that make the laws look like pieces of shit when someone is immune from liability for making money for sharing it with the world.

    I see CDA 230 staying. I suspect the way that people are going to go down is if they are profiting off of this material. It seems to be the way things have worked in the past. If you are able to host a user-generated site without any form of monetary compensation then I see you being overlooked by the law. The second they can prove you are making money then you have an army of federal agents at your office one morning and you can make the choice of pulling into your parking lot, heading for the airport, or swallowing a bullet. I suspect the last two options are going to be the first that come to mind before any rational ideas enter your stream of thought.

    I have recently seen a celebrity penis on instragram and the boobs of some drunk woman at a concert on youtube so the sites have a lot of work to do in order to stop this from happening. Right now someone can go on Twitch and livestream themselves giving their dog a bath which also means they could livestream themselves drowning a baby. Seeing as it took them over 30 minutes for the last killing to be removed they would probably have enough time to eat most the baby as well as show a screenshot of the penis I saw on instagram. If CDA 230 didn’t exist the sites would have been built around none of this being able to happen. TV learned a lot from Bud Dwyer. Tech didn’t have to care.

  20. Just reading the first 6 words of the headline made me almost throw up in my mouth

  21. And liberals wonder why we call her Nazi Pelosi.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.