Many Republicans, including President Donald Trump himself, have criticized social media companies like Facebook for removing posts for what appears to be political reasons. While many conservatives have condemned big tech for censoring some online voices, not all conservatives support government intervention in online platforms.
Here are five things to know about Hawley’s “‘Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act.”
What’s the problem?
According to Hawley, the biggest problem in the tech industry is that there are no standards for which someone can be removed from a social media platform like Facebook. If there are standards, such as the terms of service, those rules can be unevenly enforced.
Watch Hawley grill Twitter about its protocols:
This is why we need the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act → During a recent hearing on tech censorship and bias, Senator Hawley questioned Twitter's approach to transparency. Watch what happened Twitter was asked to commit to making their processes public: pic.twitter.com/4rnW9ccKvk
— Senator Hawley Press Office (@SenHawleyPress) June 19, 2019
Hawley argues that Twitter and similar social media giants are targeting conservatives and censoring some political ideologies while protecting others. He pointed to several examples of pro-life pages and posts — including a quote from Mother Teresa — that were censored by Twitter while hateful content — including a comparison of Jewish people to termites by Louis Farrakhan — remain untouched.
What does Hawley’s bill do about it?
Hawley argues that Twitter and Facebook are acting like publishers by allegedly banning content from one political group but not the other. This distinction of “publisher” is important because it opens social media companies up for lawsuits based on the content they allow.
Social media platforms today are treated the same way phone companies are treated. Phone providers cannot be sued for defamatory statements made on their service because the phone line is only the tool for which the comment was made. No one approved or denied the comment, so the phone company is protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Companies like Facebook and Twitter have had the same protections against lawsuits, arguing that they are not responsible for the content that is posted on their platforms. But Hawley doesn’t think that is the case.
He believes that by removing people and content, social media companies are acting as publishers.
Hawley’s bill “removes the immunity big tech companies receive under Section 230 unless they submit to an external audit that proves by clear and convincing evidence that their algorithms and content-removal practices are politically neutral.”
This bill would not impact “small and medium-sized tech companies.”
Why do some conservatives support it?
Hawley and other conservatives see this as the only way to hold social media companies’ feet to the fire on political censorship.
“There’s a growing list of evidence that shows big tech companies making editorial decisions to censor viewpoints they disagree with. Even worse, the entire process is shrouded in secrecy because these companies refuse to make their protocols public,” Hawley said in a statement. “This legislation simply states that if the tech giants want to keep their government-granted immunity, they must bring transparency and accountability to their editorial processes and prove that they don’t discriminate.”
Many agree with Hawley, including a nod from the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr.
GOP Sen. Josh Hawley takes aim at Big Tech's legal protection with new bill | Fox News https://t.co/A92xtWzqL3
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 19, 2019
New bill would strip Big Tech of legal immunity from content posted by individuals.
Act like a publisher, get treated like one.
Everyone should support this legislation.https://t.co/op9bfgG3xQ
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) June 19, 2019
It’s interesting to see how many people are deeply worried that our elected representatives may one day limit free speech, but are perfectly complacent about the fact that unaccountable tech companies already do exactly that.https://t.co/VdDztrzXMY
— Matthew Schmitz (@matthewschmitz) June 19, 2019
Why do some conservatives oppose it?
Many see government oversight of social media to be a bad idea. Social media companies are private businesses, and Hawley’s bill requires them to open up their processes to the government or risk being sued out of commission.
Some argue that Hawley’s requirement of “fairness” will allow government bureaucrats to toy around with the definition of fairness in a way that could result in government censorship.
The most obvious point — one @BerinSzoka has emphasizes — is that a “Fairness Doctrine” for the internet is a bad idea. And the bill quite literally injects a board of bureaucrats into millions of decisions about internet content. This is central planning. Full stop.
— Joshua Wright (@ProfWrightGMU) June 19, 2019
Several have pointed out that Hawley’s effort to end political censorship of conservatives online could result in more censorship — but this time, it would be government officials making the decisions.
As so often happens, the title of a bill communicates the opposite of the intent.
Hawley’s “Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act” would empower internet censorship, all from the government, according to vague definitions and standards.
What could go wrong?
— David French (@DavidAFrench) June 19, 2019
Make no mistake: the real goal is dismantling a system wherein private platforms & the countless individual users who speak through them are outside the easy grasp of a centralized government force https://t.co/3S5fQ9ffBI #Section230
— Elizabeth Nolan Brown (@ENBrown) June 19, 2019
.@HawleyMO private entities cannot censor speech. Only governments can do that. In fact, in a convoluted way, using government to ensure content moderation on platforms like Facebook and Twitter is politically neutral, is itself a form of censorship. ☹️☹️ https://t.co/ar7mTccWqt
— Competitive Enterprise Institute (@ceidotorg) June 19, 2019
What do tech companies think about Hawley’s bill?
For obvious reasons, big tech companies and their associated groups are opposed to Hawley’s legislation, but smaller social media companies see it as an opportunity to break up the “big tech monopoly” that Twitter and Facebook have.
Gab, a social media company that paints itself as an alternative platform without the censorship of big tech, reached out to Hawley on Twitter — ironically — to announce its support for the bill.
For now, it isn’t clear if Hawley’s bill will get the support it needs to become law, but it has certainly sparked a conversation about the role that government should play in regulating social media.