For some time, Americans have heard all about the evils of Big Tech — companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter that have played dominant roles in the internet’s ability to pick and choose who gets to spread truths and falsehoods.
But now, with the news that Tesla and SpaceX pioneer Elon Musk is buying Twitter, everyone is supposed to believe that things are going to be a lot better with the world’s richest man — Mr. Very Big Tech — in charge of the company?
Conservatives have complained that Twitter and Facebook have unfairly censored more of their opinions than those of liberals. Their thinking is that Musk, a libertarian who says he strongly supports free speech, will restore a better balance of opinion to Twitter.
We shall see, although it’s pretty easy to predict that if Twitter relaxes its commentary policing too much, the inevitable result will be more falsehoods, slimy innuendo and slanderous posts disguised as legitimate opinions. Those are proven by-products of social media.
What conservatives, liberals and anyone who thinks social media has gone too far ought to seek is a change in federal law to hold these websites to the same level of accountability as other publishers, such as newspapers, radio stations and television channels.
Right now, website companies are largely exempt from liability for what they allow others to say. Over time, this has encouraged ever more outrageous commentary and allegations, to which human nature tends to pay attention.
This is all because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. It specifically says that an interactive computer service — such as a popular social media website — cannot be considered the publisher of information on its site if someone else provided the information.
The idea was to allow websites to grow during the internet’s earliest years without facing a slew of lawsuits. Well, mission accomplished — but that success came with a price.
Does anyone seriously think Tesla should not be legally liable if its electric cars start catching fire with people inside them? Should SpaceX be liable if one of its ships crashes into a residential neighborhood? Of course they should — yet internet companies have no responsibility or liability for the damage their products allow some of their users to cause.
The world and the internet would be a better place if sites like Facebook and Twitter had to be more careful about what they allowed online. Since online companies have proven themselves to be masters of innovation, it’s ridiculous to argue they can’t figure out a way to do this.
Big Tech opposed changes to the law before Elon Musk got involved. Now that he owns one of the internet’s most prominent names, he also is sure to defend the publishing exemption. To do otherwise — to allow any serious limits on the over-the-top opinions, allegations and conspiracy theories — would be bad for business when the internet has proven there’s quite a market for it, no matter who gets hurt.
— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal