Millions of Americans are struggling to make ends meet in the midst of a crushing public health and economic crisis, but never fear. Lawmakers in Washington, DC are hard at work ::checks notes:: attempting to end free speech on the Internet?
Today the Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a mark-up of Lindsey Graham (R-SC)’s latest piece of legislation attacking Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The bill, the Online Content Policy Modernization Act (OCPMA, S. 4632), is as our friends at EFF put it "an unconstitutional mess." A last minute flurry of amendments and a manager’s amendment from Graham have done nothing to address the massive problems with the bill, which would lead to more censorship of online content, not less, and at the same time deter platforms from engaging in good faith moderation of harmful content by opening them up to lawsuits every time they do. Civil rights experts have also warned that the bill would make it harder for platforms to address voter suppression.
"I wholeheartedly oppose Internet censorship. I also vehemently oppose this bill," said Evan Greer (she/her), deputy director of Fight for the Future, "People from across the political spectrum are legitimately outraged by the growing monopoly power and abusive business practices of Big Tech companies. But punching holes in Section 230 won’t actually fix any of the problems––it will just make them worse. Lawmakers need to stop this endless partisan posturing and get to work enacting real policies to protect online free expression and human rights, like finally passing strong data privacy legislation and enforcing antitrust laws."
Sadly, Lindsey Graham is not the only lawmaker launching senseless and unconstitutional attacks on the First Amendment and Section 230 this week. Rep Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Rep Dan Gosar (R-AZ) announced a bill last night with the promising title "Break up Big Tech." Sounds great in theory. But unfortunately this bill wouldn’t do that at all. Instead it would solidify the monopoly power of the largest tech companies like Facebook and Google, by crushing their smaller competitors who have more community-based moderation strategies (think Reddit, Wikipedia) under a tsunami of lawsuits.
"Please, for the love of all that is holy, I am begging members of Congress like Tulsi Gabbard to hire staffers who have actually read Section 230 and the First Amendment so that we stop seeing silly legislation like this," added Greer, "I completely agree with all of the concerns this bill raises about microtargeted advertising, algorithmic amplification, and lack of transparency in moderation. But as written it’s profoundly misguided––and dangerous. Ripping up Section 230 will just lead to more silencing of marginalized voices, and more concentration of Big Tech monopoly power. Lawmakers need to stop thinking that gutting 230 is the only mechanism they have to hold Big Tech accountable. Why not just pass a law banning data harvesting and invasive advertising? We’d support that. But using 230 as the lever inherently benefits incumbents who can afford armies of lawyers. It’s the wrong approach."
Can we put a facepalm gif in a press release? Yes, yes we can. And at least for now, you can’t sue Tumblr (the back end of our blog) for letting us do it.