Section 230 was promised to be “reviewed” by the Biden administration. In response to Facebook posts that are anti-vax, we will not be able to continue our work. Online wrong speech is considered protected speech by Adi Robertson/The verge
The White House declared war last week on Facebook’s anti-vaccine misinformation. Although President Joe Biden claimed that Facebook and other social media networks are “killing people”, he changed his mind later. Facebook strongly refuted the accusations and promoted its vaccine initiatives. Yesterday, Biden’s administration responded with an unfounded and unneeded promise to “review” internet laws in response to misinformation.
Let me be very clear. The White House is pushing for vaccines. As the Delta virus spreads in America, American COVID-19 incidences are on the rise. Less than half of Americans have been fully vaccinated and almost all US COVID-19-related deaths are among those who are not vaccinated. Many Americans believe that the US government uses the COVID-19 vaccine “to microchip the people,” a theory that is completely fabricated and would not work. Even though they promote trustworthy content, companies like Facebook can spread such theories. Even if the law allows it, elected officials may urge them to cease doing anything that is harmful.
The White House doesn’t have the answer. It’s instead blurring the lines between reasonable guidance, and an unreasonable government crackdown.
Interview with MSNBC on anti-vaccine misinformation. Kate Bedingfield, White House Communications Director, responded to a question about whether Biden would amend Section 230 so that companies are “liable” for publishing the information.
Section 230’s inability to crack down on misinformation is a misinterpretation. It’s not something Biden has suggested before. Section 230 provides protection against legal action relating to illegal content. The First Amendment permits people to lie or be incorrect online, with limited exceptions. The Biden Administration can’t “review” anything if they don’t believe any of the following:
- Vaccine misinformation is covered by existing First Amendment exemptions such as defamation and fraud. Section 230 shouldn’t be used to shield the companies hosting it. Posts that promote non-vaccine COVID-19 “cures” may fall under this bill. However, it is unlikely to cover general false messages about vaccines.
- Misinformation about vaccines should be illegalized. Facebook users should also be held responsible for spreading it. Although Congress could ban misinformation, it would not be able to define or ban them. This would make it difficult for the First Amendment to protect us.
- Facebook should be punished for its legal and bad content. It should also be made to fight frivolous lawsuits it almost always wins.
While the White House may encourage the removal of false information about medical conditions, it does not support taking Facebook to court. On Twitter, Ken White, a lawyer and writer (also called Popehat), pointed out that Biden could have stressed from the beginning that Facebook is allowed to publish false information under the First Amendment, even though he believes the site has an ethical duty to do so.
Bedingfield could have easily made similar points in her interview. She even left the possibility open for changing Section 230 other ways. For example, Bedingfield might say that “we believe we can hold Big Tech accountable, and are reviewing laws, including Section 230. But, we also respect platforms’ right to moderate legal material as they see fit, and hope they’ll use it responsibly.”
The US government must continue to protect the rights to publish false information, especially when it concerns information about the coronavirus epidemic. In the interview Bedingfield pointed out that Facebook doesn’t create anti-vaccination content from scratch. Major outlets such as Fox News and CNN have supported vaccination campaigns. People being able to sue Facebook would not only be a direct crackdown on the media and individual, but also “Big Tech” regulation. Fox News has been sued by at least one group for coronavirus coverage. The case was dismissed.
Although the First Amendment doesn’t have unlimited protections, it would be almost impossible to ban scientific misinformation. Encouragement of lawsuits would allow companies to pressure Facebook to remove stories about pollution, hazardous products or other controversial incidents. Fake news laws from other countries can be used to suppress legitimate protest.
This statement by the Biden administration won’t be ignored by anyone who thinks all social media moderation amounts to censorship. (After all, former president Donald Trump sued Facebook for voluntarily seeking policy guidance from his own administration.) It’s the correct way to deal with a complex problem, one that also preserves the White House commitment to protect the First Amendment and the health of Americans.
Publited at Thu 22 July 2021, 05:08.33 +0000