The Flinchum File
Thoughtful Economic Analysis and Existential Opinions

The President Is Correct !

12/28/2020

I agree with President Trump about the infamous section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 . . . but for a different reason.

When the social media industry was getting started, there was understandable concern that they might be held liable for things written on or advocated on their websites.   For example, should the website owners be held liable if a user advocated fire-bombing a building, even though the website owner didn’t even know it was posted on their website.  Should websites “approve” everything that their users write?  What about infringing on the freedom of speech for users?

There is plenty of evidence that Russia and other “bad actors” used social media to influence voters in 2016.  Plus, many extremist hate groups have found social media to be a productive way to gain new members/revenue and to coordinate their activities.  Thought leaders have begun to question whether the benefits of social media exceed the overall costs to society?

The social media giants argued that eliminating harmful uses of their websites is a gigantic, unprofitable task, and that’s true.  However, a recent change in the law prohibited any entry or comments supportive of child trafficking, and the giants seem to be handling that just fine.  They can monitor themselves.

Because Facebook and Twitter have a different standard of truth than the President, they have removed or labelled several of his entries, which explains his desire to attack them by attacking section 230.  Vengeance?  Of course!  There is also the belief among a few Republicans that they are always persecuted by all media at all times.  Any difference in perspective must be persecution?

The reason I agree with the President on section 230 is the increasing power of social media, reflecting the amazing growth of those companies.  Certainly, bigness is not a crime and should not be attacked . . . but they do deserve very close monitoring.  They remain a potentially grave threat to democracy.  They are already a very grave threat to privacy.  Removing section 230 protection from those giant companies will force them to monitor themselves more closely.  Good!

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