When the GOP wins big in 2022, and especially if it recovers power in the executive and legislative branches in 2024, the first thing it needs to do is take on Big Tech and bring the oligarchs to heel. But, when it does so, it must do so in the right way. It can’t take a sledgehammer to the digital economy that has powered American growth, nor can it continue acting ineptly and muttering about concepts it obviously doesn’t understand.
Let me expand (briefly) on those two topics first, before I get into what exactly it should do. Understanding what it must not do is just as important, if not more so, as wrecking the economy or looking like fools would be about as bad as doing nothing.
Why It Shouldn’t Wreck the Digital Economy:
The first thing the GOP must avoid doing when it takes on Big Tech is avoid wrecking the digital economy. That means it can’t try to destroy, break up, or limit the reach of companies like Facebook and Twitter. Sure, we’re mad at them right now, but let’s not forget all the good that we’ve been able to do thanks to their existence.
Conservative media companies like Trending Politics, the Daily Wire, and Conservative Brief all do quite well with spreading their message on Facebook and a few meme accounts do well on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Conservative pundits like Jack Posobiec, Kurt Schlichter, and Matt Walsh do quite well on Twitter. Because those platforms exist, conservative news and media companies have been able to spread a message that they probably wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
The problem is that they censor some great conservative/reactionary thinkers. BAP was kicked off Twitter. Trump was kicked off Twitter and Facebook. So was Mike Flynn. So, when the GOP takes on those Big Tech companies, it must do so in a targeted way that solves the censorship problem but doesn’t wreck those distribution platforms, as without them we’ll all be far worse off.
The problem isn’t that these companies are big, that they make a lot of money, or that they’re online rather than in the real world, as many say. The real problem, and the only reason we need to go after them, is that they censor thought.
Just think of all the entrepreneurs that make money advertising on Facebook, media companies that make money off Google Ads and garner traffic on the Big Tech social media platforms, and deep thinkers that are able to express their thoughts and engage with their audience thanks to Twitter and Facebook.
It would be a shame if all that were lost because the GOP took a sledgehammer to the system. Plus, it would wreck the economy if the tech companies that have powered so much of our growth were destroyed by people who don’t know what they’re doing.
So, the GOP’s policies must solve the censorship problem while at the same time preserving the digital economy that has empowered and enriched so many brilliant thinkers, important truth speakers, non-establishment media companies and pundits, and entrepreneurs.
I’ll get to how it can do so after describing why the GOP needs to do enough research to know what it’s talking about.
Please, GOP, Know What You’re Talking About
The last time the GOP held Big Tech hearings, what should have been a good first step on the path toward ending Big Tech censorship was, more or less, a disaster. Why? Because the elderly senators and congressmen (remember, at this point we basically live in a gerontocracy) obviously had no idea what they were talking about.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) asked Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook head about why Donald Trump Jr. was locked out of his Twitter account. Ok, boomer.
Obviously, such an inept approach won’t yield any worthwhile results. The tech oligarchs won’t listen to legislators that don’t have the slightest clue about the platforms, the Democrats will use the confusion of elderly GOP legislators to sneak in terrible provisions to any bill, provisions that might increase the censorship problem rather than solve it, and approaching a problem we don’t know about will risk breaking a system that just needs to be tinkered with.
That means we must elect not just conservatives in 2022 and 2024, but the right type of conservatives. We need more people like Hawley that understand the problem thoroughly and have the balls to take it on, not more boomers that don’t even know the difference between Twitter and Facebook.
The Concrete Steps the GOP Should Take
So, without further ado, what should the GOP do? How can it take on the censorship problem without wrecking the digital economy and the brilliant distribution network that Big Tech companies have created for us?
By editing, not repealing, Section 230 of the Chapter 47 of the US Code, more typically known as the Communications Decency Act. Passed back when the Internet was just getting going, (C) of the act grants “Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material.”
Specifically, that section of the act grants immunity for digital services providers that edit content in good faith, stating 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” and “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of:”
- any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or
- any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).
The rest of Section 230 is well-drafted and probably doesn’t need to be tinkered with, much less repealed. But, (c) does need to be changed to reflect that these digital services providers, far from being the forum-type services imagined when the Communications Decency Act was passed, are effectively the modern public square.
Because their success has turned the social media companies–Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.– into the public square and the hosting and search companies–Amazon web hosting and Google–into the highways of information, the GOP needs to change the law to reflect that we all have a right to make our voice heard in the public square so long as we’re not advocating for anything illegal.
That would mean changing the provision that reads “any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected” to something that protects the 1st Amendment rights of digital services users.
Perhaps this edit would be satisfactory:
any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that federal law considers to be obscene, promoting violence, or otherwise illegal under the laws of the United States“
That change would mimic a proposed Polish law that, when passed, would make it illegal for social media companies to remove posts or block accounts unless the post or account violated Polish law.
Such a change would be a small one, but it would substantially change who the tech companies are allowed to censor. A provision adding a substantial fine, say $177.6 million, for banning or otherwise targeting people for reasons not deemed permissible by the act would also need to be added.
The porn bots could still be kicked off, the child porn degenerates could still be cracked down upon, and those inciting violence on the platforms (which is illegal) or otherwise calling for illegal acts could still be removed.
But, it would mean that the companies could no longer censor people or kick them off for expressing unpopular opinions. We wouldn’t have to worry about getting kicked off social media and losing our livelihoods simply because some techie in Silicon Valley disagrees with our political opinions.
That’s about all that needs to be done. If you’re harassed by someone online or see content that isn’t illegal but you find disagreeable, the block button would still exist. Just click it. But, at the same time, those that express unpopular but not illegal opinions wouldn’t be kicked out of the public square simply for stating their opinions. And, at the same time, the digital economy would be preserved. The companies would simply revert to their old, pre-Trump policies and stop banning people for wrongthink.
At a time of heightened emotions like the present, it’s easy to slip into a vindictive state of mind and call for Sulla-like proscriptions. But such a radical path would be counter-productive, as it would destroy the companies that have empowered some great thinkers and entrepreneurs. Rather than destroy them, we just need to change what they’re allowed to censor to reflect the fact that they’ve become the public square. In this case, the more “moderate” path would be far better and lead to a better outcome for all.
What do you think? Is that the path the GOP should take when trying to take on Big Tech, or should it do something more? Comment below!