Over the last four years or so, particularly now, there’s been a lot of talk about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Mostly by people who don’t actually know what it is. Namely, the outgoing President and a decent chunk of his followers. Now, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell is tying $2000 COVID relief checks to the repeal of Section 230. But perhaps we should have a discussion about what this obscure section in a pretty obscure law actually means.
What Section 230 Is and Isn’t
To hear conservatives tell it, Section 230 allows Big Tech to censor conservative viewpoints and it must be repealed so that conservatives can compete in the marketplace of ideas without hindrance from Big Tech and their Terms of Service Agreements.
Also, let’s pause for a moment and consider the hilarity of people who scream about “personal responsibility” when it comes to poor people on food stamps demanding that the government, the Federal government, intervene when they get a Twitter ban for breaking terms of service they signed of their own free will.
Okay, hilarity considered.
If repealed, there would be no moderation. Everyone would be totally free to post any opinion they wanted (save for the obviously horrible stuff like child porn and dog fighting) without fear of account locks.
At least that’s what we’re told by people who have no Earthly idea what Section 230 is.
Here’s what it is. Section 230 simply states that websites can’t be held responsible for the things their users post. To use an extremely recent example, let’s say you Tweet some conspiracy nonsense about 5G Internet and then someone believes you and drives to Nashville to blow himself up in the name of stopping 5G Internet. Because of Section 230, Twitter can’t be sued over your post and the subsequent terrorist attack it inspired.
An Internet Without Section 230
But let’s consider an alternate reality where there’s no Section 230. Do Twitter and Facebook become bastions of unfettered free speech where anyone can post anything without fear of consequence? No. Once they’re on the hook for what users say, sites are going to moderate a million times harder.
You know how Google and the various social media sites gave Alex Jones and InfoWars multiple strikes, sometimes going as far as to arbitrarily rescind previous strikes when he was right at the edge of being banned, before he dug himself too deep and the rules had to be enforced? In a Section 230less world, that wouldn’t have happened.
He would have been banned instantly. There wouldn’t be strikes and warnings. There wouldn’t be temporary bans. There wouldn’t be shadow bans. A person who posts anything that might have legal consequences would be gone. One and done.
What about the smaller sites like Gab and Parler? The ones that pride themselves on having extremely loose rules? Dead. They can’t afford constant lawsuits on account of mass shooting truthers, anti-vaxxers, coronavirus deniers, and all sorts of other malcontents. They can’t afford the moderators. A “jury pool” would in no way cut it. This is why the owner of Parler disagrees with repealing Section 230.
And the effect on conservative/alt-right websites would be disastrous. We’re talking nuclear blast level.
The Aftermath of Repealing Section 230
Right-wing and conspiracy websites rely on the reach they get with social media. What happens to them if social media actually has to concern themselves with what users posts? The sites get banned. EpochTimes, Gateway Pundit, Breitbart are just a few of the sites that would face instant bans.
It makes little difference to me if Section 230 gets repealed. Will I get banned for my own extreme opinions, such as calling anyone who works for health insurance companies the scum of the Earth and suggesting that any health insurance workers who deny a claim to a desperate patient should have their information thrown around to the patient’s family and let whatever happens happen? Yes.
Will it be hilarious when all the people who called for Section 230’s repeal because Twitter hurt the President’s little feelings wake up to find themselves and their favorite conspiracy websites banned?
Let’s just say I’ll be laughing so hard anyone in the house with me will think I’m having a seizure.