Twitter, other tech giants acting like censorious publishers

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Twitter, other tech giants acting like censorious publishers

Just a few weeks before the election, Twitter did what was once unthinkable: It censored a story published by this newspaper, the nation’s oldest continuously published daily. Users were barred from sharing The Post’s reportage on their newsfeeds and via direct messages.

No one failed to notice that the story was deemed unfavorable to presidential candidate Joe Biden. Adding insult to injury, Twitter suspended The Post’s Twitter account for several days. While Facebook also reduced circulation on the story, Twitter went further than any Big Tech entity, even telling users that sharing the article could be “potentially harmful.”

Contrast that to their refusal to moderate any comments made by Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, who has called Israel a “cancerous growth” to be “uprooted and destroyed.” Khamenei has also used his Twitter account to advocate for the “elimination of the Zionist regime” through “firm, armed resistance.” Apparently, such rhetoric doesn’t violate Twitter’s standards.

All this proves that President Trump has been right about social media: It is past time to make sure Twitter and other social-media platforms are held accountable for engaging in censorship by repealing Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

For 24 years, social-media platforms have benefited from protectionism unprecedented in the modern era. They have been allowed to moderate (or censor) the content posted by their users, thus acting as publishers, even as they have been shielded from a publisher’s liabilities.

There is no one to check the partisan censorship of these platforms. Instead, they are coddled by Section 230’s “Good Samaritan” provision, which allows for “good-faith” efforts to restrict objectionable material.

We all know Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. The moral imperative that comes from the parable has guided many legislative protections for those seeking to do good: doctors responding to medical emergencies mid-flight; citizens responding to a traffic accident; or even volunteer pilots helping to get people to medical care.

Section 230 was intended to make sure that Twitter could flag and remove unquestionably harmful content: things like ISIS propaganda videos. But instead of focusing on moderation to protect users from death threats or harassment and to prevent criminal behavior, Twitter is allowed to determine what is “otherwise objectionable” and censor it from the platform with no right to appeal or transparency into the decision.

Case in point: Last year, the firm kowtowed to the Chinese Communist Party by removing the accounts of more than 100 dissidents ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Twitter’s censorship and actions over the past few years make clear it has decided that Trump, the elected leader of the Free World, is objectionable, which is unsurprising when you look at their employee culture.

And here’s the problem with Section 230. According to a strict interpretation of the 1996 law, partisan censorship is allowed. Sen. Ron Wyden even admitted that, when written, Section 230 wasn’t about neutrality or protecting the free marketplace of ideas on platforms.

Clearly, we need a complete overhaul of Section 230, and the best way is to completely repeal it, so we can fix it from the ground up.

The argument we hear against reforming, let alone repealing, Section 230 is that any changes to it would give social-media platforms even greater control over content on their platforms. They aren’t wrong.

But that argument ignores the fact that censorship is already happening. Americans are already being censored for their political beliefs, in violation of the spirit of the First Amendment, without any transparency or recourse.

Others believe in the need to reform Section 230 incrementally, but those solutions are merely Band-Aids on a bullet wound. Free speech is dying on these platforms.

Defenders of the status quo tell conservatives to create their own social-media platforms, since they increasingly aren’t welcome on the existing ones. The problem with that argument is that Twitter and the others have a de facto monopoly on social media. House Democrats agree: They wrote a 400-plus page report arguing that Big Tech constitutes a monopoly.

Just remember what the Internet was like in 1996, when Section 230 was enacted? Only 20 million Americans had access then, and they spent fewer than 30 minutes online each month. Jack Dorsey wouldn’t even create Twitter for another decade, and virtually no one received news through the Internet.

Today, that number has grown exponentially: 85 percent of Americans, or roughly 313 million people, have Internet access, and on average, we spend about 27 hours each month online.

The reality is that Section 230 is simply outdated for today’s usage and is a strong case for why all laws should sunset, forcing Congress to reauthorize them or update them at regular intervals. Otherwise we’ll find ourselves here time and time again, forced to rectify decades-old laws used to regulate modern technology.

We need a total repeal, but the place for repealing it is not in the defense bill, because Section 230 has nothing to do with national security or defense. The National Defense Authorization Act is about making sure our troops are cared for and have the training, resources and equipment they need to complete the mission and return home safely.

Repeal needs to happen, but not in the NDAA, and I give the president and my colleagues my commitment that I will do everything possible to work toward a complete repeal of Section 230 through other means.

Jim Inhofe represents Oklahoma in the US Senate.

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