Sen. Ron Wyden
@HawleyMO‘s bill to require government oversight of online speech will turn the federal government into Speech Police, flagrantly violating the First Amendment. This bill would force every platform to become 4chan or 8chan rather than maintain some basic level of decency. [read more]
Americans for Prosperity Policy Analyst Billy Easley issued the following statement
“Senator Hawley’s misguided legislation sets the table for stricter government control over free expression online. Eroding the crucial protections that exist under Section 230 creates a scenario where government has the ability to police your speech and determine what you can or cannot say online. Senator Hawley has argued that some tech platforms have become too powerful, but legislation like this would only cement the market dominance of today’s largest firms. This bill would punish success in the next generation of innovative startups and prevent them from achieving their full potential. Lawmakers should reject this legislation.”
The Stand Together community of groups, including Americans for Prosperity, have been vocal in their opposition to Sen. Hawley’s pessimistic views of technology and the role of social media. Recently, Neil Chilson, senior fellow and former FTC chief technologist, penned an op-ed in USA Today pushing back against Sen. Hawley’s outlook on social media platforms. AFP’s Billy Easley also recently penned a piece in The Resurgent highlighting the importance of protecting Section 230.
The bill empowers the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to judge whether a platform is moderating with “political neutrality.” Under the bill, before a platform can enjoy liability protections, it must first receive a “neutrality seal of approval” from the FTC. This means that the FTC would have the power to say which social media platforms are allowed to host political speech by users.
“This bill prevents social media websites from removing dangerous and hateful content, since that could make them liable for lawsuits over any user’s posting” said Carl Szabo, General Counsel at NetChoice. “Sen. Hawley’s bill creates an internet where content from the KKK would display alongside our family photos and cat videos.”
“This law would turn today’s popular social media sites into hubs of extremism like 8-Chan.”
“Republicans should be very worried about Sen. Hawley giving control of the internet to the FTC, since it empowers a future Democratic administration to suppress conservative speech online.”
“Hawley’s proposal would revive the Fairness Doctrine, an idea that Republicans have opposed since the Truman administration,” said Berin Szóka, President of TechFreedom. “For the first time, Internet services would effectively need a license issued by the U.S. government to operate. That would make them utterly dependent upon the goodwill of FTC Commissioners, and in turn, the White House. [read more]
“CDA 230 is the law that allows online companies to moderate and remove content that no reasonable person wants online – including content that could have a ‘political viewpoint.’
“This bill forces platforms to make an impossible choice: either host reprehensible, but First Amendment protected speech, or lose legal protections that allow them to moderate illegal content like human trafficking and violent extremism. That shouldn’t be a tradeoff.
“Internet companies share Senator Hawley’s goal of ensuring online platforms are somewhere individuals can freely and safely share their views.”
“Fans of the fictitious ‘1984’ novel would no doubt appreciate the ludicrousness of a so-called anti-censorship bill that would require companies to get government approval to censor nefarious content — or face legal liability. This is an unbelievable disregard for the essence of the First Amendment and attempt to overlay a lens of partisan politics over the communications of millions of Americans.”
“If Congress is serious about tech companies doing more to remove hate speech and illegal content online, putting new restrictions on the legal protection that allows them to do that would be ill-advised. CCIA has spent decades fighting internet censorship regimes around the world, alongside US diplomats. It would be disappointing to see the country that has been a leader against restrictive regimes create its own government-regulated regime to oversee the political correctness of internet content.”
“At a time when white nationalists are stealthily seeding calls in the mainstream press for ‘viewpoint neutrality’, it’s troubling that the Senator would contemplate legislation forcing online services to carry these views. American businesses shouldn’t be forced to be neutral toward racism and extremism.”
The bill would make Internet platforms liable for any illegal content on their sites unless they can prove to the FTC that they are “politically neutral”—a meaninglessly vague standard that will likely force websites to host hate speech and other objectionable content. While the proposal purports to apply to only large platforms, its arbitrary thresholds will cover many medium-sized platforms, chilling startup growth.
Current law recognizes the difficulty of moderating problematic content online, allowing platforms to host user content without the fear of being held legally responsible for what their users say. Critically, the law also gives platforms the discretion to remove legal but objectionable content. These provisions protect all kinds of voices online and are especially important to startups, which wouldn’t have the resources to survive excessive litigation over content posted by users. [read more]
Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) is introducing legislation to clamp down on free expression online, under the pretense of fighting tech-company “bias” against Republicans.
Hawley’s solution is to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a measure that prevents individual users of internet platforms and the companies that run them from being treated as legally indistinguishable from one another. Without it, digital companies and the users of their products (i.e., all of us) could be sued in civil court or subject to state criminal prosecution over content and messages created and published by others. [read more]
Professor Eric Goldman
Like most Congressional bill names, the title is a complete misdirection. Of course private entities aren’t engaged in Internet “censorship.” Perhaps a more accurate title for this bill would be “Creating Internet Censorship Act.” [read more]
Professor Josh Wright
The Hawley Bill similarly offers the choice of death by bureaucratic board or the plaintiffs’ bar. Yes, this will impose big costs on social media. That might feel good to some conservatives politicians. But the hangover will be the cost it imposes on everyday internet users.End. [read more]
Open Technology Institute
However, Section 230 provides important protections that enable platforms to provide space for many forms of free expression, including political speech of all viewpoints.
In addition, the concept of a “politically neutral” platform is a broad, undefined one that creates an artificial, unmeasurable standard for platforms to meet. Further, although the bill specifically targets platforms with over 30 million monthly users, 300 million global users, or $500 million in annual revenue, it does not adequately account for the undue burden such requirements would place on medium-sized platforms that also fall under this category. Finally, by compelling and regulating what platforms can and cannot remove from their websites, this bill threatens to further spread hate speech, misinformation, terror content, and other forms of objectionable content online in the name of maintaining so-called “political neutrality.” [read more]