Opinion | Abolish Section 230 and start to clean up the Internet and society
Grand Enterprise Initiative
Forgive me while I step outside of my usual narrow focus on Grand County business and economics as I urge a complete overhaul of social media on the Internet.
And yet, well, wait a minute, social media and the internet are also integral to the happenings and function of our economy here in Grand County even if the overall scope of them is much, much larger than Grand County. Just think of how often my children and teens, and probably many other local children, teens and adults, are on TikTok. There’s talk of banning TikTok, proposed by one of our own federal senators, Michael Bennett.
Banning TikTok might result in widespread mental health issues in Colorado and the nation as withdrawal sets in, but I think that proposal is just a small step in the right direction that really misses the whole point.
TikTok is just a symptom of the bigger problem: That the internet and social media are a cesspool of lies, fake content and “reality” that isn’t real. The United States has a law that allows it to be that way. It’s called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a misnomer if I’ve ever heard of one.
As stated in articles in the online magazine Slate, which I am using here but is echoed in many other places, this one law opened the floodgates for a free-for-all online.
Section 230 is frequently referred to the law that one law professor has classified as containing “the 26 words that created the Internet.” The words read: “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.”
This single sentence establishes a baseline of protection for Internet platforms from being held liable for things published by their users. This is why Section 230 is widely regarded as the law that permitted the Internet as we know it today – Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Reddit and TikTok, filled with user-generated content — to thrive.
Why do they thrive because of this language? Because they can’t be reasonably sued or held liable for false and defamatory content on their sites if it is posted by someone else. In other words, they can publish most anything, no matter how scurrilous or false, and get away with it.
If I were to write in the next sentence that some hated enemy of mine was a communist with deviant sexual proclivities, and who was also a thief, then this newspaper and I could be sued to high heaven. And if what I wrote or claimed was false, then I and the newspaper would lose that lawsuit and we’d go broke. (The ultimate defense of libel is if the defamatory statements are true.)
But if I were to write and assert the same things on a social media platform, and if my 12 million (kidding) followers picked it up and shared it broadly, I and the platform would be free of any liability. There’s not even a legal obligation for me or the platform to try and be fair and share the other side of my assertions.
And this, I assert, is why the great internet is a cesspool of lies, disinformation and hate. It’s basically a way of communicating that enables and allows rampant rumor mongering, innuendo and outright lies. It doesn’t just enable it, it encourages it. As any Internet marketer will tell you, it’s the fantastical lies and outrageous and false assertions that generate the most clicks and followers. Those clicks and followers translate into advertising income for these platforms.
So I’ll say it here: Abolish Section 230 and force social media platforms to be considered as publishers (which they are) and not just as an “interactive computer services.”
Yes, it may cost Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and all those other platforms more money as they truly moderate and edit their content like any other publisher. But last I heard, the owners of those platforms aren’t exactly poor.
Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He provides free and confidential business management coaching for anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached at 970-531-0632 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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