When Sen. Josh Hawley introduced a bill last month aimed at regulating major internet firms, he received criticism from conservatives, libertarians, and especially from big tech itself. Now, Sens. Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham are also saying they would consider modifying Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to rein in big tech’s problematic censorship habits.
In Tuesday’s Senate hearing on online dangers for children, Graham said he would like to regularly audit tech companies, checking for compliance with best practices determined by a combination of industry, government, and nonprofit leaders.
“Things would change tomorrow if you could get sued,” he said. “You can have these liability protections, because we’d like to save the industry and protect it for competition, but you have to earn it.”
Cruz told The Blaze on Tuesday that if internet companies are refusing to be neutral, then they should lose the Section 230 exemption from liability.
“What’s happened is that [tech companies] have decided they don’t want to be neutral. They’re now admitting it, they’re not even pretending to be neutral,” Cruz said. “It seems to me that if they’re going to refuse to be neutral, if they’re going to engage in viewpoint discrimination, then they don’t deserve any special immunity from liability that Congress has given them.”
Many critiques on both sides have compared Hawley’s proposed legislation to the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine — the now-abolished federal policy requiring broadcasters to provide equal and balanced coverage of controversial issues. Cruz disagreed that the two were comparable.
“It’s not the fairness doctrine. The fairness doctrine is the FCC monitoring speech. This is simply saying we’re not going to give you a special benefit that no one else enjoys,” Cruz said. “This is ending a subsidy on big tech.”
Hawley’s bill, the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, would modify the special exception for liability that Congress gives to internet providers in Section 230. Instead, to receive this exemption, the Federal Trade Commission would have to certify that a platform “does not moderate information provided by other information content providers in a manner that is biased against a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint.”
In response, Silicon Valley companies feeling pressure from lawmakers, like Google and Facebook, have ramped up their lobbying efforts, according to a recent NBC report.
“Alphabet, Google’s parent company, spent more on federal lobbying than any other company in 2018 at more than $21.7 million. Facebook spent almost $13 million,” NBC reporter Allan Smith wrote. “That does not include money those companies have spent bolstering think tanks and other Washington influencers, who help shape discussion about policies that affect those companies.”