Nearly 25 years ago, Congress gave providers of Internet content a free pass.
The year was 1996 and companies like Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist. The Internet was a lawless frontier, largely unregulated.
That year, Congress passed the Communications Decency Act. At the time, the law was seen as an sincere attempt to put a lid on obscene material and protect children from pornographic subject matter.
However, Section 230 of the law has come back to haunt lawmakers. Section 230 also provided protection to Big Tech companies from being sued for content users posted on their sites. It also gave Big Tech the right to restrict what content could be submitted by users whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.
In other words, Big Tech could simply ignore the First Amendment guarantee of free speech without fear of being sued.
At the time, Congress wanted Internet providers to have the ability to screen out content that could harm young minds. In return for this concession, framers of Section 230 envisioned social media providing a forum for “true diversity of political discoures” and “myriad avenues for intellectual activity.”
I don’t think anyone in 1996 thought Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms would use Section 230 to stifle free speech.
Recent events have shown that Big Tech has overstepped the intent of Section 230, and has used the protection it provides to dictate its own political viewpoints.
In an opinion piece in USA Today, columnist Rachel Bovard explains the dangerous ramifications of Section 230.
“Critically, in protecting these companies from costly damages in lawsuits, Section 230 has also fueled the growth of the Big Tech platforms which now engage in at an unprecedented scale and scope; international mega-corporations determining what news, information and perspectives Americans are allowed to read, hear and access,” she wrote.
Bovard points out that when Google decides to suppress or amplify content, it does so for 90 percent of the global marketplace. Facebook has openly admitted it can swing an election.
When a company can muzzle the voice of a sitting President and dictate which political opinions can be read and shared, then the intent of Section 230 has been circumvented.
It’s even gotten to the point that Big Tech can put other companies out of business. A case in point is the decision earlier this week by all of the major Big Tech companies to ban the conservative social media provider called Parler.
Some of my friends, frustrated by political policies of Facebook, had switched to Parler in hopes of sharing their views with like-minded citizens. Now, even that forum has been taken from them.
“The question at hand distills to this: Are we to allow the lords of Silicon Valley to determine the terms of free speech, free thought, and free behavior in America? Or will we, a fiercely independent people, speak through our representative self-government to strip them of a congressional privilege they no longer deserve?” wrote Bovard.
I think the answer is quite clear.
Congress must regulate Big Tech, break up the monopolies, and protect the First Amendment.
Unfortunately, this seems unlikely with Democrat majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.
Steve Robertson, former publisher of the Waccamaw Publishers family of community newspapers, wrote this column. His opinion does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of Waccamaw Publishers and its website MyHorryNews. com.