Recently things online have gotten a bit weird. Censorship has been a growing problem on the internet for quite some time. Over the last 5 years, and especially over the last 6 months, censorship on the internet has gone to extremes. Entire political classes are being targeted as well as any discussion of medical or therapeutic treatments. Now the White House has taken action.
Today the President issued an executive order addressing the growing problem. The order is a petition to re-evaluate the scope of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. That bill was signed into law long before any of these social media companies existed and Section 230 protections have been grandfathered onto these tech giants. With great power and special legal protection the social media giants have taken direct control over the discussions on a national and granular level.
Section 230 immunity allows some online sites to exist as platforms and avoid responsibility for the content users post within. In exchange for acting as a utility and being open to everyone, they are granted protection from being liable for the content of their user’s posts. The immunity was meant to nurture emerging internet businesses and to overrule a judicial precedent that rendered online platforms liable for all third party content on their services if they restricted any harmful content at all.
The executive order says that Section 230 is being used in an unfair, un-American, and politically biased manner. The order also instructs the FCC to clarify when an online platform curates content in “good faith” and requires more information about moderation practices. Oversight on moderation is something that was done on broadband service providers under Title 1 of the Communications Act.
The timing is notable considering various other things happenings recently. Twitter has been on engaging in a massive wave of censorship, banning and restricting accounts. They’ve even gone so far as to ban the President’s son Donald Trump Jr, after he posted a video of doctors recommending the use of hydroxychloroquine. Various leaders of huge tech companies will be questioned at a hearing this morning regarding anti-trust issues in silicon valley.
Twitter has also taken measures to censor the President himself. Earlier this year it began with special ‘fact-checking’ segments underneath tweets made by the President. Several user tweets that were retweeted by President Trump have been deleted, or the accounts have been suspended, thereby deleting the content of the Presidents tweet.
Lately it went to an extreme. Twitter has taken the bold move of actually deleting tweets from the President’s account. Posts made by the President on the platform are simply no longer there. This marks a major change in the degree of overt censorship and likely played into the President’s decision to issue this executive order.
Twitter recently made headlines with a sweeping ban on Christian and conservative accounts on the platform. Twitter made the announcement after it banned 7,000 accounts and limited 150,000 more. The twitter statement says the company is “taking action on so-called ‘QAnon’ activity across the service. We will permanently suspend accounts tweeting about these topics.”
Critics have pointed out that Facebook, Twitter, Google and others have engaged in rampant censorship and implicit bias. All kinds of users, including President Donald Trump, have experienced hiding of their posts and accuracy warnings. Google is in a nasty spat with Zerohedge and The Federalist over demonetization from the Google Ads program, citing lack of moderated comments.