Content moderation can’t suppress information freely available on other parts of the internet or prevent people from evaluating the trustworthiness of information.
Earlier today, President Trump launched yet another attack against Section 230, alleging it amounts to “corporate welfare” and “is a serious threat to our National Security & Election Integrity.”
As usual, the president’s rhetoric fails to properly characterize Section 230 and what it helps protect.
Section 230 and Free Speech
The First Amendment limits the ability of the federal government, not private companies, to regulate speech. When the government doesn’t like what you say, it has the resources of the judiciary and the police force to harass and prosecute you. Private companies like Facebook may annoy you with some of their decisions on content moderation, but they can’t do anywhere near the level of harm that an angry bureaucrat can.
Because the First Amendment doesn’t limit the actions of private companies, so-called “censorship” on social media really isn’t a free speech issue. But Section 230 nevertheless facilitates the ability of countless individuals to speak freely.
Politicians and party apparatchiks love hyperbole. Among the more famous examples is the “Daisy” ad run by Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign, which heavily insinuated that victory for Barry Goldwater would result in nuclear holocaust.
A more recent examples is an ad run by progressive group The Agenda Project which depicted then-Congressman Paul Ryan, who was involved in Medicare reform efforts, pushing an old-lady in a wheel chair off a cliff.
These kinds of over-the-top, often baseless claims are usually protected speech because lies that aren’t told for financial gain are generally considered to be covered by the First Amendment. The federal government can’t prosecute people who lie about it and campaign ads that make fallacious claims about political actions and intents are usually legal, if maybe unethical and off-putting to voters.
Section 230 offers the same kind of protection. It ensures that hyperbole and lies remain protected speech by offering a certain kind of immunity to…