If Section 230 were a person, it would be in deep therapy by now for help processing all of the mischaracterizations and malignment it has suffered at the hands of its enemies.
Section 230 would likely grapple with a great deal of conflict in processing its abuse, because the very thing it stands for is the free speech rights of all to say untrue things about it online.
Despite what demagogues want you to believe, it really is as simple as that. Section 230 is a little law that basically just reasserts the First Amendment applies to online discussions, too. Really, it isn’t even all that necessary as courts would likely find the First Amendment sufficient for most frivolous claims people might try to bring against online platforms for comments made by third parties on them.
The reason for it is merely because our court system is trash. It’s way too easy to bring frivolous lawsuits against others, which means companies would have to waste vast amounts of resources defending themselves against junk. Big companies could withstand those costs, smaller ones could not – meaning without Section 230, we would see two things.
One, far fewer online competitors. And two, companies choosing to moderate content very aggressively to prevent any chance of a lawsuit. Ultimately, that means it would be much harder for individuals and smaller companies to get their content seen on online platforms.
If you want a crash course on what Section 230 is and isn’t, along with the reasons for its near-constant assault these days, I already wrote about that in detail here. The point of this article is more to discuss who benefits the most if Section 230 is changed. And given the fact that the US Supreme Court just agreed to hear Gonzalez v Google, that future is looking more and more imminent.
If you look across the front pages of the New York Times, CNN, or any other mainstream media company, you’ll find little to no defense of Section 230 – much less any hand wringing over the potential for its reform. Instead The Washington Post referred to the law as “controversial” while NBC News called it “divisive.”
This should give conservatives who’ve been led into supporting this kind of action pause. If you all of a sudden find yourself cheering for the same policy reforms as some of your biggest enemies, it might be time to reflect and examine your premises.
The truth is, an eleventh hour take down of Section 230 might be the only salvation coming for legacy media institutions, which have been dying a quick death in recent years. For decades, nay centuries, these organizations have had the culture by the throat. They long for the days when the only people who could report the news or give their opinions were those on their rosters, when news was limited to television and print, and when no one could really push back on their tastes or king-making.
Make no mistake, the age of information is the biggest threat to centralized power the world has ever seen. They are in shambles over the rise of influencers, independent journalists, podcasters, and the power of social media. What do they care if Facebook and Twitter can no longer breed political discussions or elevate their stories. They have their own websites, and so long as independent media is blocked from utilizing social media channels, a reform of Section 230 simply means they’ll have less competition. Media can go back to looking like it did throughout history.
There are lots of smaller tech companies that have been supporting the conservative techlash against big tech on the antitrust front. But these companies may come to deeply regret what they’ve done when the first conservative tech reform across the finish line guts Section 230.
— Patrick Hedger (@PatHedger18) October 3, 2022
There’s a reason regime Republicans and Democrats want to destroy Section 230: It protects the freedom of speech. Dismantling Section 230 will lead to more censorship of speech that challenges their authority—giving those in power more influence and control over public discourse.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) October 3, 2022
Getting rid of Section 230 protections would likely mean that social media companies moderate way more content for fear of legal liability. I’ve never understood why this is a flashpoint law for conservatives concerned about online “censorship.”
— Scott Nover (@ScottNover) October 3, 2022
The Left’s distaste for Section 230 stems from a calculated desire to diminish the First Amendment and control the official narrative in politics. It’s despicable, but good grief, at least they understand what they’re doing. The same cannot be said for the bulk of the Right’s support for this reform. They’re frankly getting suckered into advocating for their own demise and reduced influence in society.
I’ve often wondered how with such broad support for ideals like free markets, civil liberties, and limited government the Right consistently loses ground to the Left in our country. But as I’ve aged it is no longer a mystery. I watch it go down in real time in situations exactly like this.
Conservatives are mad at a given issue in the real world and instead of actually trusting their purported principles of free markets and free people to handle the problem over time, they instead throw away their values the minute they don’t get their way and begin shilling for big government intervention to punish their enemies.
Ultimately all they achieve is an empowerment of the government that will always, inevitably, be used against them in the end.
Hannah Cox is a fellow at NetChoice, an organization that fights to make the internet safe for free enterprise and free expression.