On Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey will testify before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee. The hearing – Does Section 230's Sweeping Immunity Enable Big Tech Bad Behavior? – will focus on the platforms’ content moderation policies in light of calls for reform of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
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Social media companies face the task of content moderation originating from billions of users around the globe every day. Facebook sees 1.79 billion daily active users alone. Moderating this content is a continuous process of trial and error.
The recent blocking of the New York Post story on Hunter Biden was an error – Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey acknowledged the mistake, saying the “straight blocking of URLs was wrong.” There have been mistakes in the past and there will be more mistakes in the future – but additional government regulation is not the answer.
Some suggest eliminating Section 230 is the remedy – eliminating the law that has enabled our nation to grow the world’s leading technology companies. But the 26 words that comprise Section 230 are a foundation for our freedom online, not a foil. Striking this law would not only hamper free online speech but would compromise our competitiveness and ability to maintain our status as home to the world’s top innovators.
Through a haphazard competitive process – called the free market – winners and losers emerged. Traditionally, conservatives believed the free market worked – it’s one of the core principles of conservatism.
Now, there are resounding calls from the right – and left – for government involvement, interference and investigation into American business practices and free speech.
Calls to strangle technology companies in a mire of rules and government red tape are misguided.
Indeed, our free market approach – however flawed – is the envy of the world. In China, free speech isn’t a right. Technology platforms must obey the will of the government, censoring its people and whitewashing the truth from the Internet.
In fact, all content generated within China is censored or approved by the government. Throughout the year, the government has arrested hundreds of its own citizens for speaking out on COVID-19. Zhang Xuezhong, a Chinese constitutional scholar, who posted a letter on social media to the Chinese legislature criticizing the government’s handling of the virus and its suppression of speech was arrested the following day.
According to the Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA) International Innovation Scorecard – a ranking of 61 countries and the European Union across 28 indicators – China ranks poorly in the category of freedom, receiving negative marks for its lack of political and economic freedom.
If the U.S. government involves itself in telling private companies what fact is or fiction is, how can we embrace our Constitutional right of free speech? At what point does a government-constructed algorithm instruct a social media company to remove a post because it’s too liberal or too conservative?
Section 230 is the legal underpinning of our vibrant U.S. online economy and our nation's global digital leadership, which largely protects internet companies from liability for content posted by users on their platforms.
The law sets out a common-sense principle: responsibility for online speech lies with the speaker – not the platform. More, the law protects the ability of platforms to moderate their sites without being barraged by lawsuits.
The past 25 years of a “hands-off,” deregulatory approach has enabled American innovation to flourish. Gutting this safeguard would only hurt American innovation and embolden other countries to take over the technology lead from the U.S.
Protected by Section 230, social media platforms allow non-mainstream views to be heard without being blocked by legacy gatekeepers.
As President Trump stated in his recent “60 Minutes” interview, “I think I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have social media...And frankly, if I didn’t have social media, I’d have no way of getting out my voice.”
Indeed, according to analysis this week from Politico and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based nonpartisan think tank, conservative voices frequently outpace more liberal voices and traditional media in guiding the online conversation.
Americans embrace the free exchange of ideas, the free market and free speech. Only by maintaining these American ideals and resisting overbearing government rules and speech control will the U.S. remain the global tech leader – and the shining example of freedom and innovation for the rest of the world.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2000 consumer technology companies, and a New York Times best-selling author. His views are his own.