A Reckoning Is Afoot for Social Media as Section 230 Lights up the Hill

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on 'Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms' on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

 

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, may have really stepped in it this time by effectively censoring the bombshell New York Post expose on Hunter Biden’s laptop and the emails therein which suggest the former vice president’s son may have been engaged in a cash-for-influence scheme with Ukraine and China.

While President Trump has declared his desire to repeal Section 230 protections — a part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that essentially removes liability from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook for user comments and has been interpreted as allowing the companies to moderate content without consequence — the process of clarifying what Section 230 legally means has come out of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

On Thursday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a public statement indicating his office will be taking a first step toward potential reform of the law.

CNet reports:

The FCC has the “legal authority” to interpret the law, known as Section 230, Pai said in a statement on Thursday, citing the agency’s general counsel. He reasoned that “members of all three branches of the federal government have expressed serious concerns” about how the protections, which essentially give immunity to social media companies, have been interpreted.

“As elected officials consider whether to change the law, the question remains: What does Section 230 currently mean?” Pai asked in his statement. “Many advance an overly broad interpretation that in some cases shields social media companies from consumer protection laws in a way that has no basis in the text of Section 230.”

Pai’s statement also notes his position that “social media companies have a First Amendment right to free speech. But they do not have a First Amendment right to a special immunity denied other media outlets, such as newspapers and broadcasters.”

Clarifying the law would appear to be the first step in a move by the federal government to address what critics of social media’s content moderation practices say is censorship of political opinions not favored by the brass at those companies, and what GOP legislators say are potential attempts to interfere in the 2020 election.

GOP legislators have been vocally critical of Twitter’s move to stop the sharing of the New York Post article on Biden and have called for an emergency hearing on the matter. The GOP House Oversight Committee sent Dorsey a letter Thursday requesting an accounting of any links they may have limited the reach of since January 2019, as well as an accounting of their behavior related to the story on Trump’s illegally obtained tax records, and the spread of stories related to the SCOTUS confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Such Orwellian tactics are the opposite of how Twitter has responded during other, major news cycles over the past several years.  Recently, the New York Times published a series of articles regarding President Trump’s taxes.  Despite the suspect legality of the Times obtaining the tax records and writing about them, Twitter took no steps to limit dissemination of the article on its platform.  During the hearings to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018, rumors swirled about on Twitter with suspect veracity—all later to be proven false.  Yet Twitter took no steps then, either, to limit dissemination of such rumors on its platform.

Perhaps even more troubling, Brandon Borrman, Twitter’s vice president of global communications, claimed Twitter took these steps under its “hacked materials policy,” without providing any evidence the materials were the result of a hacking.  Borrman even claimed Twitter had “blocked links before under the policy, but did not specify when.”

Therefore, please provide a list of all links Twitter has blocked on its platform from January 1, 2019 to the present.  In addition, please provide answers to the following questions:

  1. What, if any, steps did Twitter take to verify the accuracy of yesterday’s New York Post article before blocking its URL and locking certain accounts?
  2. What evidence, if any, does Twitter have that the emails mentioned in yesterday’s New York Post article were hacked?
  3. What, if any, steps did Twitter take to verify the accuracy of the September-October 2020 New York Times articles regarding President Trump’s taxes?
  4. Was there any discussion within Twitter leadership about the New York Times article falling under Twitter’s rules on prohibiting publishing hacked materials?
  5. What, if any, steps did Twitter take to verify the accuracy of the myriad rumors surrounding Brett Kavanaugh shared on Twitter in early September 2018?

Trump addressed the controversy at a North Carolina rally on Thursday.

All signs point to a reckoning being afoot.