When other members of Congress were busily showing how little they knew about the Internet, Ted Cruz asked a very specific question.
It was a question that Zuckerberg waffled on. He danced. He didn’t commit.
Becuase it was a dangerous question.
It was one with implications. Here is part of the exchange, one whose significance was underappreciated at the time. Most reports in the interaction focussed on MZ’s admission that Silicon Valley has a strong Leftward bias, and his questions about Diamond & Silk, etcetera. But this one was a little bit different.
Ted’s line of questioning was one that — if answered honestly — would fundamentally transform how Facebook (and the rest of Social Media) conduct business.
Why? Because each of the two possible answers has some serious implications. And they are mutually exclusive.
Are you exercising First Amendment Speech, as is your right? Or are you a neutral forum?
In an interview on Breitbart Radio, Senator Cruz elaborated on the meaning of the question.
He compared the power that the biggest tech companies hold over the nation’s ability to discuss ideas, and framed them as FAR more powerful – and hidden in their effects – than previous situations where the government brought in anti-trust. Standard Oil, AT&T,
Cruz considered exposing technology firms to libel lawsuits to curb their political manipulation of the availability of information on their platforms. He said, “Now your question is a hard one and a good one. What remedies are there? I would say there are principally two. Number one, the question I asked Mark Zuckerberg, the opening question was, ‘Does Facebook consider itself a neutral public form?’ He danced around and refused to answer that. The reason the question matters is much, is under current law, Facebook and other tech companies have immunity from liability, so if someone posts something on their site, they can’t be sued for it, and it’s under what’s called the Communications Decency Act, section 230. The entire reason Congress enacted section 230 was under the assumption these tech sites would be neutral public forums, [that] they would allow people to be speaking. So the reasoning was, we’ll protect you from being sued because it’s not you speaking, it’s somebody else. Well, if Facebook and the other tech companies are going to choose instead to be partisan political speakers, they have a right to do that. They’ve got a First Amendment to become and to be partisan political speakers, but there’s no reason on Earth they should get a special immunity from liability from Congress.”
Cruz continued, “Breitbart, if y’all go on the radio and say something that’s slanderous, you can be sued. If the New York Times prints something that is libel, they can be sued. So why on Earth should Facebook get a special immunity from liability that nobody else does. I think that’s one remedy.”
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act described the United States’s policy as, “[encouraging] the development of technologies which maximize user control over what information is received by individuals, families, and schools who use the Internet and other interactive computer services.”
Here’s the tough decision he has to make.
If he calls himself neutral, he can’t be the gatekeeper of information that tilts news to the hard left, and excludes all ideas he disagrees with.
On the other hand, if Facebook wants to retain a role as gatekeeper of information, it stops being a ‘neutral forum’.
Why is that important?
Because if they are not neutral, they suddenly become accountable for the content.
The protections against lawsuits they enjoy under the Section 230 Immunity is designed for neutrality, NOT for Free Exercise of First Amendment Speech.
As Cruz points out, even Journalists, who enjoy great freedom under the First Amendment, are kept accountable by the threat of a private lawsuit if what they say is, for example, libelous.
Why should Facebook have it both ways?
Either pick and choose, and become open to lawsuits.
Or don’t, and let all the various voices battle it out in the realm of ideas.
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