For a while now, many on the right — including former President Donald Trump — have called for reform or repeal of the Section 230 regulations that protect platforms from being liable for the commentary posted by other users. Section 230 is meant to keep platforms like Twitter and Facebook from being considered publishers, and therefore free from the types of regulation that come with being a publisher (like the moderation of content, etc.).
This protection has been strained a bit as social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter routinely censor, ban, and control what content is on their platform, much like a publisher would.
Many conservatives would like to see these social media platforms treated as publishers and regulate them. Other conservatives and libertarians are hesitant to call for more regulation on these platforms, and we don’t quite know what the full ramifications of that could be. Nevertheless, populist conservatives like Josh Hawley are pushing hard for Big Tech companies to shape up or be regulated.
During a Congressional hearing on Thursday, one of the leaders of the Big Tech world came out in support of Section 230 reform.
Zuckerberg said large platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube should only receive that protection if they have systems in place to remove “clearly illegal” content, such as posts involving sex trafficking or terrorism — though he argued they shouldn’t be held liable if a piece of such content slips through the cracks.
He also said big players should have to put out reports on the prevalence of harmful content on their platforms, something Facebook does each quarter. Dorsey and Pichai said they were open to some of Zuckerberg’s proposed changes.
“For smaller platforms, I think we need to be careful about any changes that we make that remove their immunity because that could hurt competition,” said Zuckerberg, whose company is facing twin antitrust lawsuits from the Federal Trade Commission and 46 states.
It’s a statement that sounds good on the face of it, but Facebook, like all of these tech companies, is a business. Zuckerberg wouldn’t make this type of proposal if he didn’t know for sure that 1) his company could meet this standard and 2) that one or more of his competitors couldn’t.
In other words, it reeks of crony capitalism.
I’m always hesitant to call for more regulation, and if Zuckerberg is calling for it, then it benefits him and likely not you or me. The CATO Institute’s Julian Sanchez appears to agree.
In other words, “we would like to hobble our competition by forcing them to bear costs we’ve already chosen to pay” https://t.co/rjNfIcRUbV
— Julian Sanchez (@normative) March 25, 2021
Zuckerberg’s support of reforms is a big red flag for me, and it should be for conservatives who have been saying that Facebook is one of the problems. If they are suddenly on board with a regulatory change, that must mean it is in their best business interest. The CEOs of Alphabet and Twitter were also at yesterday’s hearing, but did not go as far as Zuckerberg did. Their hesitancy to follow in his footsteps would imply that Zuckerberg’s gamble is a good one.
In other words, Zuckerberg is looking to use the government’s own regulation in his favor. It is Big Tech taking on the mantle of crony capitalism in the name of decency and integrity. And, if the Democrats who are in power now are responsible for issuing the new regulations, you know Zuckerberg will comply and conservatives will be hurting worse on social media than they are now.