Immediately following Elon Musk’s official buyout of Twitter, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was back at her podium not only casually mentioning that the Biden administration still works with Big Tech to censor information they don’t like, but also stressing their commitment to “reforming” Section 230 and pushing new antitrust laws.
Democrats’ calls for Section 230 reform are nothing new. President Joe Biden has gone on record saying it should be eliminated, and past reforms have passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. The partisanship arises in the very different reasons Republicans and Democrats have for wanting 230 fixed.
The left doesn’t think Silicon Valley oligarchs do enough to censor speech that Democrats claim to be misinformation. In their view, Section 230 gives Facebook and Twitter too much protection when those companies don’t immediately strip content questioning the efficacy of Covid vaccines, for instance.
It’s for the exact opposite reason that conservatives have long lobbied for reforms to Section 230, which has been weaponized against the right by malign Big Tech websites. Those giants have hidden behind 230’s immunity with the defense that they’re neutral platforms. But then they’ve turned around and proved themselves to be just the opposite: Twitter, Facebook, and the rest are partisan publishers that decide who can speak and what gets published, the same way newspaper editorial boards do.
For example, you’ll remember the Hunter Biden laptop story that came out just 20 days before the 2020 presidential election and contained information damning to then-candidate Joe Biden, specifically that he lied about lacking knowledge of his son’s Ukrainian business dealings.
Neutral platforms, the kind of public forums and common carriers protected by 230, would have let the story remain on their websites and borne no responsibility for it. Facebook and Twitter, however, couldn’t let a piece of hard-hitting journalism unfavorable to their candidate get amplified unhindered, and opted for editorializing. They suppressed and nuked the story, which corporate media have since admitted was legitimate, in true left-wing publisher fashion.
Republican outcry was obviously warranted. Section 230 was never supposed to empower partisan oligarchs to violate the principles of the First Amendment with censorship of their opponents, which Democrat-style reforms would empower them to do with greater ease. GOP lawmakers such as Sen. Josh Hawley got to work on fixing loopholes like the “Good Samaritan” clause, which has empowered Big Tech to censor speech they deem “harassing,” “violent,” or “otherwise objectionable” if they do so in “good faith.”
But when that censorship favors the left, as it did when the Hunter Biden story got suppressed, many of them plus a number of short-sighted libertarians fired back with the predictable “private companies!” retort. Twitter and Facebook are private companies and can thus do whatever they want without violating the First Amendment, they said. “Build your own,” they added. Section 230 is fine, they argued.
That’s why it’s just remarkable how these folks have changed their tune. Yesterday, Section 230 was fine and private companies could do whatever they wanted. But today, democracy hangs in the balance and we need to update Section 230 and our antitrust laws? What changed?
We all know what’s changed. It’s not just that Musk has taken over Twitter — that much is clear — but it’s what the Musk buyout represents: a threat to Democrats’ power. And all their whimpering about it has exposed glaring hypocrisy. Here they are, hoping regulators nuke Musk-owned Twitter, immediately after all their uproar at Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis for “bullying” a private company when he sought to remove special privileges for woke, anti-parent Disney.
The hypocrisy is evident in the White House’s “antitrust” absurdity too. Right after Twitter accepted the buyout offer from Musk, who also controls SpaceX and Tesla, Psaki said the administration would “support … enacting antitrust reforms.”
Tesla and SpaceX have nothing to do with Twitter and aren’t monopolies, however, and thus antitrust reforms don’t apply. Meanwhile, the left has no problem with the Amazon mega-billionaire Jeff Bezos — whose company dominates online commerce and also controls major sectors of brick-and-mortar stores, delivery transit, entertainment, production of goods, and artificial intelligence — also buying and controlling legacy media through The Washington Post.
And what about the market domination of YouTube and its owner Google, which have worked together to silence conservative voices and suppress so-called misinformation that later turned out to be true, such as election claims and Covid treatment information? It exposes Democrats’ “antitrust” concerns as pure hogwash.
The whole Musk-Twitter ordeal has reinforced the conservative arguments for fixing Section 230. Namely, Twitter and other tech giants should be treated under the law as common carriers or utilities, just like Verizon or Comcast. As common carriers, they would have no ability to censor Americans based on their political or religious beliefs but they would also share no responsibility for the things those people say. They would serve everyone equally. In that world, it wouldn’t matter one iota who owned them.
The left, however, will never allow this. They must control everything, and they must have the ability to change how they control it and what they do with that control on a whim.
How else would they spread their misinformation about global viruses and their miserable responses to them? How else would they win elections or groom children into a perverted sexual worldview? How else would they favor their own voices on issues like abortion, inflation, health care, voting, vaccines, sex, the border, the military, churches, riots, presidents, or foreign policy without algorithmic manipulation?
Democrats such as the Biden administration don’t really care that much about Section 230 or antitrust, and they certainly don’t care about free speech. They care about power, and they’re afraid Elon Musk isn’t going to let them keep all of it.