The Right Wants to Blow Up the Internet to Punish Big Tech

With a gaggle of right-leaning internet figures and conspiracists trickling out of the White House this week, pressure is mounting on an extraordinarily potent sliver of legislation that most people have never even heard of.

That law, known as Section 230, provides a legal shield for internet companies hosting user-generated content. Without it, platforms like Facebook and Twitter would be legally liable for every single piece of content they host. That’s the crushing, collective legal liability of 500 million tweets sent each day. Every passing thought generated by Facebook’s 2.38 billion users. Every beat of the more than one billion hours of video YouTube users watch every 24 hours.

The law—which supporters and detractors alike view as the legal cornerstone of the modern internet—was created in 1996 as an amendment to the Communications Decency Act. It states plainly that internet companies are not the publishers of any user-created content they host.

In recent months, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley seized on Section 230, taking it up as a pet issue—a stance that he doubled down on during the White House social media summit.

In a speech decrying the “fake media,” Hawley highlighted Section 230 as leverage he and like-minded lawmakers could wield against internet companies.

“Google, Facebook, Twitter, they’ve gotten these special deals from government,” Hawley said. “They’re treated unlike anybody else. If they want to keep their special deal, they have to quit discriminating against conservatives.”

“Just came from the White House Social Media Summit where I had chance to stand alongside @realDonaldTrump and talk about why we need to stop Big Tech from discriminating against conservatives,” Hawley wrote after the event, followed by the hashtag #Section230.

Taking the stage after Hawley, Trump lauded his efforts to limit legal protections for tech platforms as “very important legislation” before going on to say he doesn’t trust tech companies to “self correct.”

Silicon Valley’s critics—and everyone else with a timely agenda to push—know there’s blood in the water. From the fallout of revelations around Russian election interference in 2016 to escalating concerns around flourishing hate speech and algorithmic radicalization, it’s been open season on tech platforms—and the criticism is coming from all sides.