My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump who wrongly believes the 2020 presidential election was stolen, appeared on Newsmax Wednesday to discuss his suspension from Twitter.
The topic of the segment was supposed to be Big Tech's censorious efforts to silence Lindell. But the businessman immediately veered off-topic and into conspiracy theory territory, forcing producers to abruptly cancel the interview—and inadvertently making an important point about Section 230, the federal law that protects social media companies from liability and has undeservedly become an object of conservative ire.
The interview began with the host prompting Lindell to address his company's suspension from Twitter.
"[My Twitter account] was taking down because we have all the election fraud, with these Dominion machines," said Lindell. "We have 100 percent proof, then they took it down…"
At that point, anchor Bob Sellers interrupted him and informed viewers that "we at Newsmax have not been able to verify any of those allegations, and there is nothing substantive that we have seen." The host and Lindell then talked over each other for a while. Watch below:
— Raheem Kassam (@RaheemKassam) February 2, 2021
This raises a question that more conservative critics of social media should be asking themselves: If it's censorship when Twitter yanks Lindell off its platform for making false and potentially defamatory claims, is it not censorship when Newsmax does the same thing? Have conservative news outlets that refused to interview Lindell effectively silenced him in the same way Facebook has?
The answer, obviously, is no—of course Newsmax is under no obligation to permit Lindell to make such statements. Neither is Twitter. Neither is Facebook.
Newsmax is under greater pressure to deplatform Lindell, of course. The network is facing a potential defamation lawsuit from Dominion, the voting machine company wrongly maligned by many Trump surrogates. Bringing Lindell on the airwaves and letting him make defamatory statements puts Newsmax in significant legal jeopardy.
Unlike Newsmax, social media companies cannot be held liable for Lindell's defamatory comments. Section 230 establishes that internet platforms are not responsible for users' content, except in a few special cases. Social media companies can take action against concerning content, of course—they just aren't required to do so.
Many conservatives—most notably, Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.)—have fallen in love with the idea of repealing Big Tech's liability protection, perhaps in order to really stick it to Facebook and Twitter. But the results of such a move are easy to predict: Without Section 230, Facebook and Twitter would moderate even more content.
Indeed, a social media platform deprived of Section 230's protection wouldn't suddenly become a more careful steward of conservative speech, but the opposite. It would be forced to behave exactly the way Newsmax did with Lindell. It would silence anyone whose speech was remotely likely to cause legitimate complaints. It would have no choice.
This is a prospect that delights many Democrats, including President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), both of whom support 230's repeal. That pro-Trump Republicans want to aid them in this effort is truly perplexing.