Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa took to the Senate floor on Monday to condemn Big Tech companies for using their “sweeping immunity” under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to justify political censorship and de-platforming
While Grassley said “the goal of Section 230 was laudable” at a time when the internet was just starting, the “interactive computer services are no longer struggling companies but some of the largest corporations in the world today.”
“When Section 230 was signed into law, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube did not exist. Today they’re dominant tech giants,” Grassley noted. “Many argue that these private companies have their own terms of service and are able to enforce them as they wish, that they’re not covered under the First Amendment. Yet these platforms are now the new public square where it’s important that all voices and viewpoints are able to be heard. With the immunities that these companies have and the importance of dialogue on their platforms, arguably they are in effect state actors and therefore First Amendment protections should apply to user-generated content.”
These companies, Grassley continued, use their monopoly power and Section 230 immunity to “censor speech and undermine the First Amendment” without the fear of competition or retribution.
“When a company has monopoly power, it no longer is constrained by normal market forces. If these platforms had competitors, consumers could choose alternatives when they disagree with terms of service or moderation policies. Right now the only choice consumers have is to take it or leave it,” Grassley explained, noting that Section 230 only contributes to this. “These companies are unaccountable to their customers, the courts, and the government. If not for their monopoly power and Section 230 immunity, these companies might not be involved in the actions and censorship we see today.”
Without alternative places to connect online, Grassley said, people are subject to interference and censorship for their political views.
“We cannot stand for this cancel culture and the interference with free speech,” Grassley warned. “Entrepreneurs want to challenge these Big Tech companies. Unfortunately, the system is rigged against the little-guy startup. … Millions of small business owners use tech platforms to operate their business. Many have been censored, banned, and demonetized. This can be done without warning, no explanation, and many times without any meaningful due process.”
In addition to condemning Big Tech for its de-platforming and censorship efforts, Grassley called on antitrust regulators “to take a harder look at the actions of Big Tech” and urged his fellow members of Congress to consider supporting his legislation “increasing resources for FTC and DOJ antitrust enforcement.”
“Right now there are essentially five companies within the United States that determine what can and cannot be viewed by the American public. It’s becoming increasingly clear that these companies are more beholden to cancel culture and not to the free speech principles that this country was founded upon,” Grassley concluded. “It’s time that we examine the need for Section 230 immunity and to what extent these tech companies are abusing their monopoly power. It’s time that these companies stop arbitrarily deciding what speech is acceptable for the country.”