By Josh King
Over the last year or so, there’s been a surge of claims that Google, Twitter, YouTube, etc. are “biased against conservatives.”
The starting point of this bad faith argument is a presumption that sites should be “neutral” about their content moderation decisions — decisions like which accounts Twitter suspends, how Google or Facebook rank content in search results or news feeds, or how YouTube promotes or obfuscates videos.
More about this “neutrality” nonsense in a later post, but let’s move on with how this performative mewling works.
So after setting up the strawman standard of “neutrality,” these self-styled “conservatives” turn to anecdotes showing that their online postings were unpublished, de-monetized, shadow-banned, or otherwise not made available to the widest audience possible.
These anecdotes are, of course, offered as evidence that sites haven’t been “neutral.”
And it’s not just some unfocused wingnut whining. This attitude is also driving a number of legislative proposals to amend and scale back CDA 230 — the law that makes the internet go.
Conservative Senators like Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham — lawyers all, who surely know better — bitch and moan about CDA 230’s content moderation immunity. If only sites didn’t have this freebie, they say — well, then, we’d see some neutrality and fair treatment, yessiree.
This is total bullshit.
Sure, CDA 230(c)(2) makes sites immune from being sued for their content moderation decisions. But that’s only important to the extent it keeps people from treating “community guidelines” and “acceptable use policies” as matters of contract that can be sued over.
Moderation? Curation? Promotion? All of that stuff is fully protected by the First Amendment.
Really, I can’t stress this enough:
CONTENT MODERATION DECISIONS ARE PROTECTED BY THE FIRST AMENDMENT.
Eliminating content moderation protections from CDA 230 doesn’t change this fact.
It can’t change this fact. Because CDA 230 is a statute and not the FIRST AMENDMENT.
So why all the arguing for CDA 230 to be carved back? Some of it is surely just bad-faith angst about “big tech,” misplaced in a way that would unduly harm small, innovative sites. But a lot of of it is just knee-jerk reaction from those who actually think that removing the immunity-for-moderation found in CDA 230(c)(2) will usher in a glorious new world where sites will have to publish everything.
Which, by the way, would be awful. Any site that just published virtually everything users posted (that’s the true “First Amendment standard”) would be an unusable hellhole. No site is going to do that — and, again . . .
They don’t have to BECAUSE THE FIRST AMENDMENT PROTECTS CONTENT MODERATION DECISIONS.
Reposted from the Socially Awkward blog.