(July 31, 2019) You’d have to be as gullible as the gatekeepers of Troy to believe that Google and other social media platforms censor user content without imposing their own political bias. In recent Congressional hearings Texas Senator Ted Cruz disclosed that 88 Google executives donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign whereas none contributed to Donald Trump’s. The World’s two most popular websites are Google and its subsidiary YouTube, while FaceBook is third. Yet YouTube limited access to a five minute video about The Ten Commandments posted by the politically conservative website, Prager University. According to Google’s testimony it cannot be viewed by schools, churches, and families exercising supervisory control to block “obscenities, violence, hate and adult content.” Google admits that “about 25%” of Prager’s videos are similarly restricted although less than 2% of all YouTube videos are restricted.
After Senator Cruz suggested that Big Tech platforms were abusing their limited liability shield against defamation and libel provided by Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA) when they selectively block conservative political content, Google immediately sent forth lobbyists to “educate” The Washington Post and The New York Times. Consequently, both newspapers quickly published editorials attacking Senator Cruz. Basically, they argued that CDA 230 does not require social media websites to be politically neutral. The platforms, they argue, can censor user content freely and still retain their privileged immunities to libel and defamation.
That interpretation has two problems. First, while CDA 230 permits censorship it requires that platforms exercise it in “good faith” in order to remain immune to the liabilities that would apply to publishers like The Times and The Post. One-sided political censorship does not constitute a “good faith” practice. Second, the Act’s language suggests that Congress never contemplated that the platforms could freely exercise biased political censorship. Indented below is the pertinent language in paragraph “C.”
No provider [platform] . . . shall be treated as the publisher . . . [of user content].
That means that Big Tech is given civil immunity for anything that users post on their platforms. If Mr. “A” posts a YouTube video calling Mr. “B” a liar, Mr. “B’s” legal recourse for defamation and libel is against Mr. “A,” not YouTube.
No provider [platform] . . . shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to . . . material that the provider . . . considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable . . .
The above language indicates that Congress was mostly concerned about obscene and violent material. Big Tech has taken large liberties with the “harassing and otherwise objectionable” phrase to target politically conservative voices. The New York Times‘s Sarah Jeong even admits this although she writes that is because conservative voices are more likely to post “hate speech, and fake news, and conspiracy theories.”
Jeong’s explanation is false. Numerous YouTube videos from left-wing sources spread fake news. One example is Joe Biden’s claim that President Trump’s “very fine people on both sides” Charlottesville remark referred to the white supremacists whereas the President was actually speaking of those who merely wanted to protect the Robert E. Lee statue. YouTube has done nothing to censor mainstream media sources whose videos on its website still propagate that hoax thereby promoting hatred against people wanting to protect Confederate statues.
The solution is to change CDA 230 so that it permits companies like Google, YouTube, Twitter and FaceBook to retain civil liability immunity only if they stop censoring for political reasons. If they continue to do so they should be treated as publishers, subject to libel and defamation laws. Specifically, they should lose their immunity if they fail to use “good faith” when moderating user content, understanding that one-sided political censorship is not a “good faith” practice. Presently, they are abusively employing the “harassing, or otherwise objectionable” phrase to target restrictions against right wing users that they don’t apply to left-wing sources. Harassment by left-wing sources against conservative voices is also seldom penalized.
If you agree, consider writing your Washington representative to urge that the 1996 Communications Decency Act be revised to deny the Big Tech platforms civil liability immunity for user content if they censor it for political purposes. It is always those in power who censor, which they do for a single reason: to retain power.
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