Content moderation is how online platforms like Facebook and Twitter have a safe place for their users to create, share, and consume news and views. Some online platforms moderate extreme political content so their users doesn’t see white supremacist content next to family photos and cat videos.
But Sen. Hawley’s “Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act,” would force online platforms to host politically extreme content that most of us would prefer to avoid online, such as views and videos produced by the KKK.
This bill effectively prevents platforms from removing any political content, since that could make them liable for lawsuits over any user’s posting. The stated goal of Hawley’s bill is to reduce anti-conservative bias by platform moderators, but would actually turn our most popular social media sites into extremist hubs like 8-Chan, a message board that has recently come under scrutiny for its role in two mass shootings, characterizes itself itself as the “darkest reaches” of the online world and has fostered a reputation as a nearly lawless space for speech — however hateful or dangerous it may be — to flourish.
Currently, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act allows online platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Wikipedia to host user-generated content. Sen. Hawley’s bill would force platforms to act with “political neutrality,” or else risk liability for all user-created content.
In his press release, Sen. Hawley defended his draft bill by claiming that it only requires platforms to be “politically neutral.” But even removing content by extremists won’t be politically neutral. So, to be politically neutral, platforms would effectively have to stop moderate any content that could be deemed political.
To determine political neutrality, the bill empowers the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to judge whether a platform is moderating with neutrality. Under the bill, before a platform can enjoy liability protections, it must first receive a “neutrality seal of approval” from the FTC. This means that the FTC would have the power to say which social media platforms are allowed to host political speech.
While social media platforms could technically take the risk to moderate political content, they could lose the liability framework in Section 230 that makes it possible for ordinary Americans to share their views on social media.
Sen. Hawley’s bill would put websites like Facebook and YouTube in a catch-22. Platforms would have to choose between allowing extreme political content, or moderate that content and thereby expose themselves to an avalanche of lawsuits over posts of users.
At a time when elected representatives worry about an anti-conservative bias on social media, Sen. Hawley’s bill serves up an example of exactly what not to do.
Content moderation protects our rights to free expression and our democracy. Without allowing platforms to moderate content, we could see extremist news and views among our social media news feeds. That’s something all Americans, including Sen. Hawley’s constituents, don’t want.