We’ve all been watching this develop for years now: The internet is being slow-choked, not by rapacious ISPs forcing users to pay for “fast lanes,” but by politicians on both sides of the Atlantic who want to have a bigger role in what we’re allowed to do and say online. To be sure, lawmakers are being greatly aided in their efforts by major tech players such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Apple’s Tim Cook, who are explicitly calling for regulation to maintain current market positions in a sector defined by creative destruction (all hail MySpace and Blackberry!).
In an interview with Recode‘s Kara Swisher, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) pronounced that in the tech sector, the “era of self-regulation” is over when it comes to privacy and speech rules. Sounding a lot like conservative Republicans such as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, she zeroes in especially on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act as the thing that needs to be torched.
As the title of a new book puts it, Section 230 comprises “the twenty-six words that created the internet.” Author Jeff Kosseff explains that by immunizing websites, platforms, and service providers from “lawsuits over materials that their users upload,” Section 230 “fundamentally changed American life.” Indeed, the internet as we know it is based on both “content created not only by large companies, but by users,” writes Kosseff, who observes that of the top 10 most-trafficked websites in the United States in 2018, only Netflix “mostly provides its own content.” All the rest—Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter, et al.—either rely heavily on user-generated content (including potentially actionable reviews and comments about everything under the sun) or exist to guide users to such content (Google, Yahoo).
Pelosi is done with all that, telling Swisher that the freedom of expression empowered by Section 230 is “a gift” and a “privilege” that can be rescinded if major tech companies don’t move in the direction she and other politicians want. She frets over companies such as Facebook and Twitter buying up app makers and other services without explaining themselves to regulators. “Is this just commerce and they see a market opportunity and decide to take it on?” says Pelosi. “Or are they in competition with each other, buying something before somebody else doesn’t buy it and then all of a sudden, three or four firms dominate the marketplace and engines of search and the rest of that?”
“For the privilege of 230,” Pelosi warns, “there has to be a bigger sense of responsibility on it. And it is not out of the question that that could be removed.”
Like many Democrats, Pelosi remains convinced that Facebook helped to throw the election to Donald Trump by not regulating political advertising tightly enough and providing a space for the Russians to practice dark arts (the idea that Russian social media changed the outcome of the election is simply wrong). On top of that, liberals and progressives are calling for more policing of whatever they define as “hate speech.”…
The emperor just hates it when someone points out that he’s naked. But free speech is not a “privilege”, pelosi’s position is a privilege that she and her “colleagues” in both parties have long been used to abusing in secret while they squander the blood and sweat of their captive constituencies on mass murder and wholesale theft in their empire games.