Section 230 Must be Reformed, Not Repealed

  • December 12, 2020
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Section 230 Must be Reformed, Not Repealed – Democratic Article

In the final days of his waning presidency, Donald Trump intends to cause as much damage as possible. That is clear from him purging the leaders from the Pentagon, and reportedly looking at strike options on Iran. Another way he intends to damage Biden is getting Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act repealed. He is so desperate to do this he is willing to withhold military funding to get his way.

Now, you might be asking what this is, and why the fuss. Section 230 gives social media companies protection from lawsuits about what third parties post. Without this act, companies would need to put strict enforcement on what can and can’t be put on their site. This act enables social media companies to function and absolves them of responsibility for what we post. It means that we can be sued for what we put, not the platform. This act is the internet.

However, Donald Trump and other Republicans have had problems with the way platforms like Twitter and Facebook are regulating their content. This is because recently platforms have stepped up on what can and can’t be posted on their site, in regard to fake news. They want Section 230 gone.

Their basic argument is that by editing or blocking posts, social media platforms are no longer platforms, they are editors. This means they are no longer protected under the act. They say that social media companies are unconstitutionally blocking freedom of speech and unfairly targeting their content.

What they fail to understand is that without Section 230, companies would have to introduce internal regulation to prevent a landslide of lawsuits. Clearly, Trump intends to sue Twitter for blocking and labelling his posts. But this is not a freedom of speech issue. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from fact.

Now, Trump has gone so far as to say that he will block the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) if Section 230 isn’t repealed by Congress. This is ludicrous. Firstly, Section 230 has nothing to do with military funding. Trump has tried to label it as a ‘national security’ and ‘election integrity’ issue. Nonsense. The act does not cause the security of the US to be threatened nor elections. Only Trump’s ego is threatened. Secondly, if the NDAA does not pass, that means military funding is withheld. This funding is vital.

Clearly, this is another instance of Trump just wanting to cause chaos for the new Congress and president next year. If the military funding does not pass, then soldiers do not get pay rises and defence modernisation programs will not get funding. The money behind the Department of Defence will be gone. If Section 230 is repealed, it will fundamentally alter the internet for the entire world for the worse. Two massive problems for a new Congress and President to sort before anyone can pursue their policy agendas.

It’s not clear why removing Section 230 would help anyone either. Trump and other Republicans claim that Twitter and Facebook are unfairly targeting right-wing content. While I agree social media platforms tend to favour the liberal left, this is because of their users, not because the platforms themselves are inherently left-wing. Twitter and Facebook are attempting to block hateful, misleading content that the populist right often try to weaponise.

Twitter and everyone else would still have the right to label posts as misleading. In fact, they would have to be even more proactive about what content is posted on their platform in order to prevent a downfall of lawsuits. This is clearly what Trump truly intends to do. He wishes to remove immunity from these platforms so he can sue them.

Twitter does not derive the right to label posts as misleading from Section 230. It gets that right from its own terms and conditions. Maybe Trump and his allies should read them. As private enterprises, Twitter and Facebook have the right to decide what is published on their space. Trump’s constitutional freedom of speech right does not apply here. Does he have the right to speak freely? Yes. Does he have the right to speak freely specifically on Twitter and Facebook? No.

There is a need for a nuanced conversation about big tech. There is a need for a nuanced conversation about how to handle fake news, and how fake news relates to the freedom of speech. There is even a need to review an act that was written in 1996 that applies to very different social media companies.

Outright, repeal is wrong. This would destroy the internet for the world overnight. The next Congress and Biden must remember this. It is a complicated question, not something that can be or should be resolved by an outgoing president and Congress in about a month.

Written by Senior Democratic Writer, Kieran Burt

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Point of Information

Trump is picking futile fights – A Republican Response

As my colleague Kieran so eloquently states, Section 230 isn’t perfect. But it is necessary to protect consumers’ freedom of expression online.

Picking a fight with social media platforms is just another chapter in the long book of ridiculous acts committed by Trump throughout his presidency. I’m quite frankly glad to see social media platforms are beginning to take a stand against his ridiculous claims as it’s the main way he spreads his lies and further indoctrinates his cult-like following. While I don’t support the suppression of free speech, I cannot support the spreading of false claims which could potentially lead to serious consequences.

Now, the main issue here is Trump’s threat of blocking the NDAA. Like my colleague writes, the NDAA has nothing to do with Section 230 and Trump’s issues with Twitter. If he is to cut funding to the Department of Defense, he’d effectively be opening the door for external threats, both conventional and unconventional to come into the US and cause damage. Twitter is a private company, and ultimately has the final say on what can and can’t be posted on their platform. Just as any private business has the right to choose who they serve and who they don’t serve.

Freedom of speech is paramount to American Democracy. But so is protecting consumer rights and the freedom for corporations to decide how they run their business. If Twitter simply does not want Trump spreading lies on their platform, no one should stop them from taking down his tweets or marking them as fake news.

This does present a slippery slope, and we must ask ourselves just how much power corporations should have in determining what is real and what is fake news. But that’s a conversation for another time, for now, let’s ensure Section 230 is not repealed, and hope that Trump goes gently into the night.

Written by Republican Writer, Sebastian Calcopietro

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Trump will leave a legacy – A Foreign Perspective

The presidential election result left a sour taste amongst the Republican camp so Donald Trump will certainly be looking to leave some damage and a legacy behind before leaving the White House for four years. It is without a doubt he will be running for presidency again.

I would not be surprised if we see an increase in the use of executive orders by Donald Trump to ensure that his agenda has been achieved. Also as Kieran has said, the power of outright repeal is wrong, especially when it comes to Section 230. Social media is a point of publication for free speech and infringing that right would put presidential power into question. Indeed, the American Constitution would also be put into question as it would be an infringement on civil liberties.

Now I am sure Donald Trump would not be too foolish to go that far and ruin his presidential term which certainly had some kinks but was largely successful. Also, it would be uncalled for to strike Iran considering how hard Trump has worked to improve relations in the Middle East. Doing so would put an end to a successful streak of foreign policy.

Written by Foreign Perspective Writer, Max Jablonowski

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Kieran Burt
Conservative writer at | Website

Hello, my name is Kieran Burt and I am going into second year at Nottingham Trent University studying Politics and International Relations. I first developed an interest in politics through reading the Dictator’s Handbook by Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, when I was 16, and have furthered my interest by studying politics at A level and now at university.

Max Jablonowski
Max Jablonowski
Conservative Writer at | Website

I am Max Jablonowski, a second year student studying French and Politics at the University of Exeter, and I am about to go on my year abroad to Paris to complete two internships. I was Academic Events Manager of the Politics Society in Exeter and I was privileged enough to organize events such as Question Time, co-host the 2019 General Election Hustings with MWEXE and host the Rt. Hon. James Brokenshire MP, the current Minister of State for Security.

Sebastian Calcopietro
Junior Conservative Writer at | Website
Hello, my name is Sebastian or “Seb” and I am currently going into my third year of
studies at the University of Exeter, completing a bachelor’s degree in International

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