TechFreedom President Berin Szóka says suggestions that edge provider liability protections for user-generated content being conditioned on "neutral" platforms is akin to imposing a web "fairness doctrine" that threatens speech.
Szóka plans to tell Congress that at an April 26 House Judiciary Committee hearing on online censorship at which he says he has been invited to testify.
According to the written testimony he has supplied, Szóka says content moderation is an inevitable part of the internet and will always involve judgment calls. "There is certainly plenty more that websites, in general, can do to improve how they moderate content, but there’s no one, right way to do it across the board, and it will evolve with new challenges," he says.
Some of the judgments that have come against conservative content--Trump supporters Diamond & Silk, for example--have led Republican legislators to suggest the Sec. 230 immunity protections for user-generated content should be limited to "neutral public platforms" as a way to prevent bias against conservative or religious speech.
Sec. 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act held that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." Whether social media sites are publishers has become a hot button issue. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example, told Congress earlier this month that while Facebook took responsibility for content on its site, he saw it as a tech company, not a publisher.
But he also conceded that concerns about a Silicon Valley liberal bias were justified, and that Facebook had made some errant calls--Diamond & Silk for example--but that it had made some on the liberal content side as well.
Szóka says an online "fairness doctrine" would be unwise and unconstitutional. The fairness doctrine was an FCC requirement that broadcasters always seek out and provide airtime to the other side of controversial issues.
The FCC in 1987 ruled the doctrine unconstitutional and unenforceable, though it remained on the books until only a few years ago. It was Republicans who complained that the doctrine was a way to discourage controversial speech, and the doctrine's fall precipitated the rise of conservative talk radio.
Szóka says Sec. 230 was crafted "to avoid having the government try to meddle with 'vast democratic forums' of the internet and remove disincentives against responsible self-policing."
"That conservative Republicans should suddenly support a Fairness Doctrine for the internet, after railing against the idea for decades, is simply baffling," says Szóka.
At the hearing Thursday (April 26), Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said he agreed with Szoka that there should not be a fairness doctrine for the internet.