It’s Not Up To Big Tech to Decide What’s True
Facebook, Twitter, and Google have all engaged in political censorship. But Twitter went into the lion’s den by stuffing Dem talking points into a Trump tweet under the guise of a fact check. (That is essentially what fact checks are, authorization for Democrat media outlets and partners to determine what can be said and what the facts are.) Facebook’s Zuckerberg took pains to distinguish himself from Twitter’s Dorsey.
Unlike Dorsey, Zuckerberg has been careful to reach out to conservatives, which doesn’t change his politics a whit, but he understands that he’s riding the tiger, with Democrats pressing for a Facebook crackdown for not censoring conservatives, and Republicans pushing for a crackdown on Facebook for doing so. I’m not a fan of Zuckerberg, as some of my recent articles make clear, but he’s also in an impossible situation.
Facebook has looked for some sort of ambiguous middle ground, with a bit of fact checking, without giving them too much power, creating a censorship supreme court full of lefties, but throwing in one conservative, all the while making it unclear how much power who really has.
But Facebook has a business strategy. Twitter is a trainwreck that happened to become popular and is the disease of American politics. Jack Dorsey made a point of virtue signaling over political ads, getting deeper into bed with lefties, while having no consistent program. Zuckerberg pursues a strategic ambiguity, while Dorsey is just incompetent. That made the events which triggered the White House’s 230 draft order inevitable. But it was always inevitable anyway. Too few Big Tech companies have too much power, no limits, and lots of political pressure.
And that takes us back to the whole platform question.
Congress made a mistake with Section 230 and needs to fix it. But the CDA of which 230 was just one of many numbers was long since trashed by judges. The old services, like Compuserve, were platforms. The rise of all-encompassing ‘bulletin boards’ like Facebook have posed a new challenge. So has Google’s effective total control over internet search.
Platforms can take down content that fails to meet clear guidelines and is applied objectively. For example, they can remove nudity. The standards for that are pretty clear. They can remove death threats, offers to sell drugs, child and animal abuse, etc.. There can be complexities in that regard, but it’s quite possible to define standards.
Removing things that aren’t true isn’t the business of platforms. Zuckerberg is correct in that, even if he doesn’t really live by it. Outsourcing the job of determining truth to partisan fact checkers just makes the behavior of Big Tech platforms more damning. There’s really no way to have truly objective fact checking of political speech in our society. And no one has tried to make that happen. Nor is such an effort healthy anyway.
The public square is for debates about what’s true.
When Big Tech starts trying to determine that, there’s no debate, no speech, and no public square. Just one point of view.
Platforms which start censoring political speech based on a partisan ‘fact checking’ agenda are acting as publishers. All the pearl clutching about protecting standards comes down to platforms acting as publishers. If Twitter or Facebook don’t want to have “bad information” on their sites that they don’t agree with, they’re publishers and they should own that status.
Beyond the immediate need to break up Google, Facebook, Amazon, the Big Tech monopolies, all the debate over Section 230 makes it all the more obvious that we need to update our legal understanding of platforms to what the internet looks like today, not during the Clinton era.