Liberals and Conservatives Are Both Totally Wrong about Platform Immunity
I like to think of myself as someone who’s been decently critical of excessively concentrated power in the tech platforms. Back in 2010, to general derision and laughter, I wrote that tech platform monopolies might well be a growing problem, and I like to flatter myself in suggesting I was early in calling for an antitrust campaign to break up Facebook.
But I have never really been on board with the idea that abolishing the private immunity of platforms is a good idea, or even very important for the goals that either the left or the right holds dear. It is, it seems to me, the wrong tree to bark at, a red herring, you choose the metaphor.
(If you’re reading this, you probably know what I’m talking about, but just in case: we are speaking of the repeal of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which grants an immunity to platforms that host the content of others. It says, “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.” Some on the left have been calling for its repeal for some time; and Trump recently demanded that Congress repeal it.)
The intuitive case for abolishing that 230 immunity goes like this. “Newspapers and TV stations are fully responsible for what they publish or broadcast. Why should Facebook / Twitter / Reddit / 4chan get be getting some kind of special treatment?” After that the left and right make different arguments, which I’ll simplify. Left: “We have a huge problem with fascist disinformation and propaganda, and the platforms are a big part of it, because they bear no responsibility for what appears on their platforms.” Right: “The platforms are grossly biased against conservative speech, and they should only have immunity if they don’t censor anyone.”
With great power comes great responsibility, right? Who could be against that? The only problem is that abolishing Section 230 would address exactly none of these complaints.
First, no one can deny that Facebook and Twitter, not to mention 4chan, have been the breeding ground group for lots…