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Although some conservatives have long grumbled about how tech firms–and social media providers, particularly–treat their content unfairly, the freshman Republican senator from Missouri has finally put his legislation where his mouth is.
Sen Josh Hawley, the youngest serving US senator on Tuesday introduced his Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, a major update to the way big tech companies are treated under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).
Sen. Hawley’s legislation would remove the immunity big tech companies receive under Section 230 unless they submit to an “external audit that proves by clear and convincing evidence that their algorithms and content-removal practices are politically neutral.”
Affected tech firms would be policed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Hawley said legislation would not apply to small and medium-sized tech companies.
But what is truly extraordinary–aside from the obligatory and expected statements from industry, like this and this, hostile to further regulation–is just how bipartisan and across-the-board the venom is for this bill.
That’s particularly true for conservatives, save for those who feel similarly aggrieved as Hawley, who absolutely savaged this proposal.
“Man, we’ve known the Josh Hawley Section 230 force-tech-companies-to-be-politically neutral bill has been coming for a long time, we’ve known it was gonna be bad, but I don’t think I suspected it would be THIS level of hot garbage,” conservative writer Andrew Egger tweeted.
Hawley’s bill even incurred the wrath of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy organization backed by the wealthy Koch brothers.
“Senator Hawley’s misguided legislation sets the table for stricter government control over free expression online,” said Billy Easley, a policy analyst for Americans for Prosperity. “Eroding the crucial protections that exist under Section 230 creates a scenario where government has the ability to police your speech and determine what you can or cannot say online.”
It fell to Daphne Keller, of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law in California, to point out perhaps the most Orwellian aspects of what Hawley has proposed.
“This Hawley Bill to amend CDA 230 is wacky in a dozen little ways and in one huge way: It assumes there is such a thing as ‘political neutrality’ and that the FTC can define and enforce what that is,” Keller tweeted.
Egger, the conservative journalist who branded the Hawley bill “hot garbage,” absolutely took it apart in a piece he wrote for his employer, the website The Bulwark.
In particular, Egger explained how Hawley has Section 230–which the senator describes as a “sweetheart deal” for tech firms–all wrong.
“Here we may note in passing that Hawley’s gloss of Section 230 bears no resemblance to the actual law in question: Far from being a ‘sweetheart deal,’ Section 230 simply codifies the common-sense notion that you’re not responsible for my criminal speech just because you sold me a product that helped me say it,” Egger said. “Furthermore, nothing in the statute makes that exemption of liability contingent on ‘providing a forum free of political censorship,’ a quote Hawley and others have lifted entirely from a completely different section of the law.
“In fact, not only is it from a different part of the law, Section 230 explicitly protects providers regarding ‘any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.’ In other words, companies have the right, and are specifically encouraged, to moderate the content users post or share on their sites.”
Hawley’s announcement of the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act makes no mention of any Senate colleagues who support the measure. Also, it is silent on any outside advocacy groups who back it.
The bill is not likely to be enacted into law anytime soon–at least in its current form.
Not only is its support in the Senate unclear, there is no way the Hawley bill would make it through the Democratic-controlled House.