The Democratic frontrunner wants to punish tech giants for the worst reason possible. That’s right, Joe Biden wants to punish Facebook and Twitter so they will censor more.
Biden endorsed one of the most aggressive proposals against Big Tech last week in an interview with the New York Times. He wants to eliminate Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech platforms from publisher liabilities.
“Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one,” Biden said. “For [Mark] Zuckerberg and other platforms.”
This sounds somewhat similar to the proposal by Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) that would revoke this privilege for tech platforms that fail to respect users’ free speech rights. Section 230 is offered on the assumption tech platforms operate as neutral political forums. But there’s a crucial difference: Biden wants to eliminate this protection because of insufficient censorship—the complete opposite motive of Hawley’s bill.
“It should be revoked because [Facebook] is not merely an internet company,” Biden said. “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.”
Biden also won’t rule out criminal penalties for Zuckerberg over alleged collusion with the Russian government. He did praise Zuckerberg for taking down “Russian bots” that were attacking the former vice president’s campaign but implied the Facebook executive is selling out American democracy to foreign tyrants for cold hard cash. Biden is particularly upset with the number of ads Trump runs on Facebook.
Forget the Russian bots and the Twitter trolls—the government demanding more suppression of constitutionally protected speech is a far bigger deal.
It’s Not Just Biden
Biden’s plan further underscores the fact that a future Democratic president threatens internet freedom. If Section 230 was eliminated altogether, tech platforms would only allow opinions and information approved in the mainstream media. Nearly all conservatives and Trump supporters would be gone. You could be banned for sharing news that liberals just don’t want to hear about. These platforms would become insufferable echo chambers, essentially a heavily moderated comments section of the New York Times.
This development would thrill liberals, but harm anyone with views things differently than the Democratic mainstream.
Nearly every Democratic presidential candidate, both former and current, wants to punish tech companies for allowing “hate speech” and “disinformation” on their platforms. Three candidates besides Biden want to target Section 230. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants to look into Section 230 to make sure “right-wing groups don’t abuse regulation to advance their agenda” and that tech platforms censor hate speech. He doesn’t call for the outright elimination of Section 230 but his meaning is plain enough.
Similarly, Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), a forgotten presidential candidate, wants to revise Section 230 to hold Big Tech accountable for “misinformation and hate speech on their platforms.”
Former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke released a plan last summer on Section 230. O’Rourke didn’t want it outright eliminated, either, but he did want this privilege stripped from tech companies that provide “a platform for online radicalization and white supremacy.” Fox News was one outlet he felt tech companies should censor to retain Section 230 status.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic lawmakers are leery of Section 230. Pelosi said that tech giants put this “gift” in jeopardy with their lack of responsibility, a not so subtle threat to censor more. Last month, she fought to keep Section 230 protection out of the USMCA trade deal.
“Hate Speech” as Catch-All
The other candidates also want to pressure Big Tech to censor more, but haven’t specifically mentioned Section 230. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wants to break up Facebook and other tech giants as punishment for “profiting off of hate speech and disinformation campaigns.”
Mayor Pete Buttigieg says his administration would investigate and call out platforms that “traffic in hate and encourage or fail to moderate abuse and hate.” Buttigieg wants more aggressive measures to suppress ads that liberals deem to be erroneous.
Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), another former presidential candidate, also wants Big Tech punished for alleged hate speech. “We will hold social media platforms responsible for the hate infiltrating their platforms, because they have a responsibility to help fight against this threat to our democracy,” she told the NAACP last year. She did not offer a specific idea to do so, however.
No matter who wins the Democratic nomination, that candidate will demand more online censorship. Every major candidate sees what they call “hate speech” as something that should not be protected by the First Amendment. Every single one of them wants to use state power to push Facebook, Twitter and other platforms into only allowing liberal discourse.
This is un-American and a real threat to our democracy. Forget the Russian bots and the Twitter trolls—the government demanding more suppression of constitutionally protected speech is a far bigger deal. What’s the good of free speech if we can’t share “controversial” opinions in the public squares of the 21st century?
Democrats are right that Section 230 should be revised. But it should be changed to explicitly protect viewpoint diversity and free speech, not solidify liberal hegemony.