What Section 230 And The President’s Executive Order Could Mean for Social Media

Everyone in America enjoys the liberty of Freedom of Speech. I was thinking what if you had to pay someone every time you opened your mouth to say words? Like legitimately had to pay for speech. Would rates be calculated like an Uber charge? That would get quite confusing and could be another topic for another day.

Anyways, Twitter made a big decision on Tuesday, and the President is responding to that today.

Just to be clear, I love twitter and I’m willing to admit I’m addicted to it. I also realize it has its flaws and there are so many self-righteous “blue check marks” along with genuine assholes but I think that the humor and information outweighs all that.

But pretty much what happened was Donald Trump tweets a lot and people disagree with him a lot also. It’s politics, obviously people are going to disagree with him. And he tweets a lot. Last week, MSNBC’s Karen put out a complete lack of self awareness clip saying she wanted to speak to Twitter’s “manager” to get the President’s tweets taken off the site.

I guess she got ahold of him, at least partly, because Twitter decided to “fact check” one of the President’s tweets. This might’ve been a mistake.

Regardless of your views on the President or free speech are, the reason why this is a mistake is because Twitter, along with most social media platforms, are protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) which was passed in US Congress in 1996. The language of the bill states:

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

47 U.S.C. § 230

I first thought it was kinda crazy that was passed really before the internet was even a thing. Like it’s a good sign to realize that these politicians had the foresight to know communication on the internet was going to be a huge part of our daily discourse, and it was vital to extend the constitution to this new world of online. But with so much changing over the past quarter century, some of these applications may have abused this privilege and have acted like speakers of information.

Because sect. 230 gives online platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, and even comments on this blog, the ability to not take on liability for what contributors say in posts and comments. In essence, it makes them like a utility. This should mean, then, that they act like a utility.

A utility because as an example, If I were call someone on my phone and threaten them my cell provider, Verizon, doesn’t take liability for administering that phone call. Only I would get in trouble for the hypothetical threat. Verizon is just the medium of communication. You don’t see them getting involved in cases and lawsuits regarding what is said on their call services, and obviously they don’t want to.

This is basically the same thing with these Internet Service Providers. As long as they act as just a medium of communication then they are deemed not liable for the things that are said on their platforms, according to section 230.

However, what many people, including prominent politicians, are arguing is when these platforms take actions like this of “fact-checking” certain accounts, or censoring/removing content for “mis-information” then they are essentially waiving this privilege. It would make these platforms something entirely different and it would basically crumble their entire business model.

So when you hear a news anchor tell these companies to “do the right thing” and censor its users, they might just not understand what the platform’s actual purpose is, or they don’t care and just want you to shut up because you disagree with them. Either way its not good.

Obviously you cannot yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater and that same First Amendment logic needs to apply to social media. Putting someone in clear, eminent danger is unlawful. But trying to “well actually” someone is just patronizing and exposes your own biases instead of just being the neutral service that you intended to be.

It really is a damned if you do damned if you don’t dilemma, especially when these public companies have so many stakeholders to appease. But that huge consolidation of platforms and powers doesn’t mean that these tools have to be used as an advantage for either side of the aisle. That is why this executive order that Trumps says he will be signing today is so significant. More restriction on what you can say is a bad thing.

And maybe this could lead to new, truly open platforms to gain some footing in the monopolistic social media marketplace.

Forcing people to pick a side is dangerous to the cooperation and collaboration we can achieve as a country. Instead of just taking each other’s posts down let’s just figure out a way to not politicize everything and work towards finding real solutions.

There is so much going on in the world, and country, right now that is just really hard and sad to see. I hope that we can come together and put our differences aside to try and come up with better answers other than just constant arguing and fighting.

Stay safe.

@jacklesser_ & @thoughtless44

9 thoughts on “What Section 230 And The President’s Executive Order Could Mean for Social Media

  1. And section 230 has to go. They have to be held liable for election meddling…which is what they are doing. Twitter has step in doggie doo that facebook was smart enough to avoid. They have ruined it for all social media platforms because of their outrageous partisan bias. It has to be stopped before they taint our election process.


    1. I think the actual act of revoking the law could be dangerous. Section 230 is one of the few explicit acts that I have seen that extends the protection of free speech onto the internet. I think it is more important that the sites, like the major social media platforms, who hide behind sect. 230 to avoid taking on liability need to then stay out of discourse and only remove things that create clear, eminent danger to a person or group.
      If these “platforms” want to act like publishers then they don’t get the privilege of the law. And that should ultimately be up to the company’s discretion. But, if you have an alternative to 230 then that is a conversation I would love to have.


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