Another week, another impeachment, and it does not even reach my newsletter. The foregone conclusion of the Senate trial - an acquittal - was overshadowed, at least in my reading list, by thousands of words about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Democrats unveiled their initial “Bill”, supported by Amy Klobuchar. It contained enough of a threat to the way the Internet currently works to provoke a reaction on all sides.
Fred Wilson, on his AVC blog well expresses the core. He quotes the famous “26 words” of the original:
“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.”
These words basically say that you (the platform I use) cannot be held responsible for what I (the publisher) write or convey on it. That is true even if you editorialise by removing or changing the content of another publisher in other circumstances. He then goes on to quote Jeff Kosseff:
“First, we haven’t agreed on what the problem is. There are very different conceptions of what is wrong. Half of Washington thinks that there should be more moderation and that the platforms should be more restrictive. The other half thinks that the platforms need to be less restrictive, and in many cases say they shouldn’t do any moderation at all.
Also there’s this: If you’re saying that there should be more moderation and less harmful content, the big problem with that is that we still have the First Amendment.”
My point of view is that there is not a problem to solve. Section 230 already provides the right balance. It allows me to publish on your platform without you becoming liable. It allows you to take down what I post if you have a solid enough reason. It does not expect you to scrutinise everything published. It works.
So the drive for change is not rational; it is political and driven by two competing ideologies. One ideology comes from the “left” and seeks to force platforms to remove content it disapproves of. This is generally called de-platforming or “cancel culture”. It is driven by a belief that there is only one “truth” and that all else is “fake” or “lies” and damaging to the civic mindset. Banning it is the goal, and forcing Twitter, Facebook and others to do so is part of the method. Section 203 is a readymade instrument to be changed to facilitate that.
On the other side are those who are angry with Twitter and Facebook for de-platforming Donald Trump and want to force them to act less often. This is mainly the new, “Trumpist” right.
I have no time for either movement. Leave 230 alone and let’s get on with enjoying our Trump-free era. So, as the title says - if the debate is garbage, the proposals are also likely to be. Garbage In, Garbage Out.
Lots more content this week about Clubhouse. The opinions are varied. Philip Greenspun gives an excellent first-timers overview..