When you raise the question of limiting disinformation on social media platforms, the most obvious answer is to repeal Section 230. Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, and countless other senators and representatives from both parties have expressed support for the idea, which would see companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube liable for disinformation spread and posted on their platforms. It seems like the most obvious answer because it is, but that doesn’t mean its the right one.
Navigating through Section 230 (and the rest of the Communications Decency Act, for that matter) is like walking on eggs. One wrong step and you risk destroying one of the last really great things about the internet: the freedom. What makes Section 230 the most obvious solution to the issue of social media disinformation diffusion is what also makes it the most dangerous one. With Section 230 in place, we, as users, are responsible for what we post, the platforms, even though they technically own the content we post, are not. Repealing 230 would flip this on its head, but it could do irreversible damage to internet culture in the process. Smaller platforms could be destroyed due to liability over the content posted on them, while we would be one step further away from owning our own content.
And this is before touching on the even bigger issue, the ripple effect that repealing 230 would have. I brought this up earlier this week in my post on Apple and it’s theoretical liability in being that platform that provides for these other platforms. If we remove Section 230, would Apple be liable? Would the stores that sell iPhones, iPads, and Macs be liable? Would the malls that those stores are in be liable? If you buy a used iPhone off eBay, would the person who sold it to you be liable? Would eBay? Would the company providing server hosting to eBay be liable? If you remove Section 230, where does the chain of liability end? It’s impossible to tell. The only answer is for us to be responsible for what we post, and the platforms be responsible for the spread of it, as that is how they contribute.
All of these are on top of the fact that, even if you were to repeal Section 230, what next? There’s no logical course of action. I assume court cases. But those are long, tedious, and, in me even having to write a piece like this, the government has clearly demonstrated their inability to navigate through technology regulations.
Removing Section 230 is not the silver bullet that these politicians make it out to be. It maybe the easiest answer, but the politicians proposing it aren’t asking the right question. Instead of trying to make social platforms responsible for the content that we post, they should be trying to make them responsibility for the content that they spread. Instead of going for Section 230, they should be going for the algorithms.