We have heard much about Section 230( see here) protecting internet providers from liability for what is posted on their sites.
In my opinion, Section 230 is a double edge sword. It has allowed platforms such as Medium to be able to have authors publish without pre-approval. This goes for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and any other social media site. There is no way that billions of people could be users without that ability.
While allowing for the free flow of information and opinion on these platforms, they have contributed to dangerous misinformation being circulated as truth. We tend to believe what we read regardless of whether it is true or not. And the more often something is repeated, the more we believe it. If the “fact” tends to support our already existing opinion and prejudices, then it is easy to accept.
There are millions of untruthful posts on these internet platforms. The myth about the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus is perpetuated there. Yet these notions, though untrue, are not at all hurting our society. What happens when you spin a deeper and deeper unfounded conspiracy theory about how the recent presidential election was rigged? Was that what triggered the recent storming of the Capitol?
This has now come to a head because the owners of Facebook and Twitter have decided that Trump cannot use their platforms any longer. Were their actions in violation of Section 230? If you read Section 230, nowhere does it preclude a platform from barring someone from using it. In this case, the owners stated that Trump had violated their terms of service.
I have had my own displeasure with Facebook recently. They refused to boost my posts containing my local governments’ newsletter page. They have classified the page as a political organization. That page is part of the free press informing my readers and directing them to my newsletter. I believe that Facebook is wrong and unreasonable. However, as a private business, they do have the right to enforce their rules no matter how misguided I might find their application to be.
These platforms are not the same start-ups that they were when Section 230 was enacted. They are massive behemoths that have cornered the market. The government should not interfere with their ability to promulgate rules for the use of their platforms. The government should be looking to break up their monopolies.
They are now not stifling free speech, but they sure look to be in violation of the anti-trust statutes by not allowing other competitors to flourish by using monopolistic practices. That is no different that the Rockefellers or Carnegies of a bygone era.
For the past 40 years, the federal government has cozied up to big business making it bigger and bigger. Their refusal to enforce the current anti-trust laws has been felt throughout the American economy in every sector. The U.S. is less innovative as compared to other nations because of it.
What these companies have done with respect to closing Trump’s accounts are within their purview. Section 230 may need a little tweaking but does not warrant repeal. It is a valuable tool for all of us and our right to voice our opinions. All of us would be worse off without its protections.
However, there should never be any company with the monopolistic power of Amazon or Facebook. That goes for everything from food processing to airlines to social media. Our democracy and economy depend on a free and fair marketplace that supports competition for the benefit of all consumers.