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Politics

Don't mistake moderators for censors

Corey Friedman on

With so-called censors like these, who needs publicists?

Facebook and Twitter are under the microscope for suppressing links to an unverified news story alleging Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden brokered a meeting between a Ukrainian energy company executive and his father while his father served as vice president.

If you already knew that, the tech giants' ham-fisted efforts to bury the New York Post story clearly didn't work. But conservative critics are so incensed that they're willing to strip social media companies of essential liability shields.

President Donald Trump has declared war on the Communications Decency Act Section 230, which states in part that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." In plain English, that means websites can't be held liable for most user-generated content that's false, defamatory or otherwise unlawful.

The Federal Communications Commission will draft new rules on Section 230's enforcement, Chairman Ajit Pai announced Thursday. Trump and many of his allies want the entire section repealed.

"When government granted these protections," the president tweeted, "they created a monster!"

 

Conservatives want to prevent social networks from squelching right-wing content. Instead of allowing websites to choose what they moderate, fact-check, demonetize and block, they'd try to make tech firms liable for most or all user postings.

A digital equivalent of the FCC's defunct Fairness Doctrine requiring political neutrality has been discussed, but any such rule would be on a constitutional collision course. Forget the Supreme Court; that couldn't pass muster in a mall food court.

Big Tech may be massive -- Facebook boasts 2.7 billion profiles, and Twitter touts 330 million active monthly users -- but the companies are private actors, not government agencies. Users don't have free speech rights to post whatever they please. Websites have free speech rights to determine what kind of content they'll host.

When government tries to muffle your message, it's censorship. When a company chooses to remove your words from its platform, it's editing.

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