October 28, 2020

Joe Biden Can’t Tell The Difference Between The 1st Amendment & Section 230; Still Thinks Video Games Cause Violence

Joe Biden is the latest Democratic candidate for President interviewed by the NY Times editorial board, and if you’re interested in tech policy, well, it’s a doozy. Biden seems confused, misinformed, or simply wrong about a lot of issues from free speech to Section 230 to copyright to video games. It’s really bad. We already knew he was on an anti 230 kick when he gave a confused quote on it late last year, but for the NY Times he goes even further:

Charlie Warzel: Sure. Mr. Vice President, in October, your campaign sent a letter to Facebook regarding an ad that falsely claimed that you blackmailed Ukrainian officials to not investigate your son. I’m curious, did that experience, dealing with Facebook and their power, did that change the way that you see the power of tech platforms right now?

No, I’ve never been a fan of Facebook, as you probably know. I’ve never been a big Zuckerberg fan. I think he’s a real problem. I think ——

CW: Can you elaborate?

No, I can. He knows better. And you know, from my perspective, I’ve been in the view that not only should we be worrying about the concentration of power, we should be worried about the lack of privacy and them being exempt, which you’re not exempt. [The Times] can’t write something you know to be false and be exempt from being sued. But he can. The idea that it’s a tech company is that Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one. For Zuckerberg and other platforms.

CW: That’s a pretty foundational laws of the modern internet.

That’s right. Exactly right. And it should be revoked. It should be revoked because it is not merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false, and we should be setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy. You guys still have editors. I’m sitting with them. Not a joke. There is no editorial impact at all on Facebook. None. None whatsoever. It’s irresponsible. It’s totally irresponsible.

There is so much to talk about here. First of all, Biden admits upfront that the reason he thinks CDA 230 should be repealed is because of his personal dislike of Facebook’s founder and CEO. It’s one thing to argue that the platform creates harms and therefore we need a different regulatory approach, but to start out by saying you just don’t like the guy, and use that as the basis for punishing the entire internet is… really something.

Second, Biden seems to be (again) confusing the 1st Amendment with Section 230. It’s not Section 230 that allows people to post false things on Facebook. It’s the 1st Amendment. You know, the thing that Biden is supposed to “protect and defend” if he becomes President.

Third, the comparison with the NY Times is completely offbase. The NY Times is also protected by Section 230 if a third party says something on its platform, they cannot be sued. And, similarly, if Facebook itself said something that violated the law, it can be sued. All 230 does is put the liability in the right place: on the actual speaker. Facebook is not “exempt” from any law. Biden is just wrong.

Fourth, he’s not even talking about reforming 230, he’s talking about revoking it. That’s insane and would lead to crippling litigation and vast silencing of the public. It’s not even in the realm of reasonable discussion.

Fifth, notice at casual he is about lumping in the rest of the internet, just because he dislikes Facebook. Take away 230 for the entire internet, even as it’s what enabled free speech to really flourish on the internet. And, again, it’s amazing how confused he is thinking that 230 is the issue when it’s actually the 1st Amendment.

Sixth, the point about “editors” is also completely nonsensical. Editors have nothing to do with it, unless he’s saying that no one should be allowed to be posted on the internet unless it’s been edited first.

And just to be clear here, a lot of what Biden says in this interview is factually false. Yet, here, he’s arguing that the NY Times should be liable for posting his falsehoods. And Facebook should be liable if people repost them there. And I should be liable because I’m posting his nonsense here. This is not someone who understand even the first thing about Section 230, how the internet works, or free speech online.

He continued with more word salad:

CW: If there’s proven harm that Facebook has done, should someone like Mark Zuckerberg be submitted to criminal penalties, perhaps?

He should be submitted to civil liability and his company to civil liability, just like you would be here at The New York Times. Whether he engaged in something and amounted to collusion that in fact caused harm that would in fact be equal to a criminal offense, that’s a different issue. That’s possible. That’s possible it could happen. Zuckerberg finally took down those ads that Russia was running. All those bots about me. They’re no longer being run. He was getting paid a lot of money to put them up. I learned three things. Number one, Putin doesn’t want me to be president. Number two, Kim Jong-un thinks I should be beaten to death like a rabid dog and three, this president of the United States is spending millions of dollars to try to keep me from being the nominee. I wonder why.

Civil liability for what? What exactly is the legal violation he’s talking about? And notice, again, that he immediately resorts to a personal vendetta and stuff about Russia, ignoring that Facebook has a huge team constantly fighting and trying to take down Russian ads. Yet, Biden falsely states that Facebook was leaving them up to give Zuckerberg money. Does he not know how any of this works?

Of course, then he more or less admits the reason he hates Silicon Valley is because they opposed him on SOPA/PIPA. If you don’t recall, for years, Biden was one of Hollywood’s biggest friends in the Senate. Even once he became VP, he convened a “summit” about copyright in which he only invited maximalists. In the White House, he was the main voice pushing for SOPA/PIPA and apparently got quite upset when Obama eventually came out against the law. Here, he tries to rewrite history, pretending that SOPA/PIPA was just about “protecting” copyright and artists, when it was actually a massive tool for internet censorship — and notice how he calls an internet exec “a little creep.” He goes on to display near total ignorance and direct hatred for Silicon Valley and innovation.

There are places where [President Obama] and I have disagreed. About 30 percent of the time, I was able to convince him to my side of the equation. Seventy percent of the time I wasn’t when we disagreed, when he laid something out. And you may recall, the criticism I got for meeting with the leaders in Silicon Valley, when I was trying to work out an agreement dealing with them protecting intellectual property for artists in the United States of America. And at one point, one of the little creeps sitting around that table, who was a multi- — close to a billionaire — who told me he was an artist because he was able to come up with games to teach you how to kill people, you know the ——

CW: Like video games.

Yeah, video games. And I was lectured by one of the senior leaders there that by saying if I insisted on what Leahy’d put together and we were, I thought we were going to fully support, that they would blow up the network, figuratively speaking. Have everybody contact. They get out and go out and contact the switchboard, just blow it up.

And then one of these righteous people said to me that, you know, “We are the economic engine of America. We are the ones.” And fortunately I had done a little homework before I went and I said, you know, I find it fascinating. As I added up the seven outfits, everyone’s there but Microsoft. I said, you have fewer people on your payroll than all the losses that General Motors just faced in the last quarter, of employees. So don’t lecture me about how you’ve created all this employment.

The point is, there’s an arrogance about it, an overwhelming arrogance that we are, we are the ones. We can do what we want to do. I disagree. Every industrial revolution, every major technological breakthrough, every single one. We’re in the fourth one. The hardest speech I’ve ever had to make in my life, I was asked to speak at the World Economic Forum, to give an answer on, to speak to the fourth industrial revolution. Will there be a middle class? It’s not so clear there will be, and I’ve worked on it harder than any speech I’ve ever worked on.

The fact is, in every other revolution that we’ve had technologically, it’s taken somewhere between six years and a generation for a government to come in and level the playing field again. All of a sudden, remember the Luddites smashing the machinery in the Midlands? That was their answer when the culture was changing. Same thing with television. Same thing before that with radio. Same thing, but this is gigantic. And it’s a responsibility of government to make sure it is not abused. Not abused. And so this is one of those areas where I think it’s being abused. For example, the idea that he cooperates with knowing that Russia was engaged in dealing with using the internet, I mean using their platform, to try to undermine American elections. That’s close to criminal.

I can’t even follow half of that word salad. It’s nonsensical word spewing. The fact that the big tech companies don’t employ so many people directly, completely misses the point that was being made: that the internet has enabled so many jobs around the world, not directly at those companies, but enabling so many people to start their own companies and businesses, and to create jobs at other companies because of the internet. Notice that Biden’s world view is totally focused on how many jobs are created by single large companies. That’s completely missing the point.

And that final paragraph is just bizarre. He’s suggesting government has to “level the playing field” with each new technological revolution. But he can’t explain when or how they did that. When or how did they do that with the Luddites? When or how did they do that with TV? When or how did they do that with radio? What is he even talking about?

At the end of this section he also insists that the internet is bad for children:

Well the tech industry, look, not everyone in the tech industry is a bad guy, and I’m not suggesting that. What I’m suggesting is that some of the things that are going on are simply wrong and require government regulation. And it’s happened every single time there’s been a major technological breakthrough in humanities since the 1800s, and this requires it. For example, you have children?

CW: No.

Well, when you do and you’ll watch them on the internet, it gets a little concerning. What in fact they can see and not see, and whether or not what they’re seeing is true or not true. It matters. It matters. It’s like — well, anyway.

It’s like — well, anyway. Yeah. Look, there is false information on the internet. There is false information elsewhere. Hell, much of this interview with Biden is him spewing false information. Perhaps children shouldn’t be allowed to read it.

Or, perhaps, we teach our children how to be good information citizens, and teach them how to be skeptical and how to do more research. Perhaps, it’s the job of parents and school teachers and other mentors to teach kids how to take in, filter, and understand information. Having politicians who don’t know the first thing about the internet come in and tell them how to run things doesn’t fix any of that. Indeed, it only makes the problem worse, by sweeping reality under the rug.

Not that any of the candidates running for President seem particularly good on tech policy, but Biden’s outright hatred for the internet, and “creeps” in Silicon Valley seems to have completely clouded his thinking.
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