Why Section 230 Repeal is Not the Answer
Conservatives must fight for free and fair online communities without resorting to tactics that only invite more censorship.
Last summer, I warned businesses against trying to appease the digital mob that demands conservative speech be suppressed online. Since the awful events on January 6, when a fringe political movement used a rally in support of President Donald Trump to attack our nation’s Capitol, it is clear some tech businesses are not heeding my advice.
Businesses believe they can avoid criticism by bowing to progressives’ demands. That is a mistake. After tech giants de-platformed President Trump, they somehow believed they’d be praised by the media and progressive activists. Instead, the left saw this as an admission of guilt and called for their heads. Take this rant by Mika and Joe for example, in which they claim that big tech has “destroyed this country,” and should be punished for not banning more speech.
On the other hand, conservatives are equally outraged at the social media giants for banning too much speech. They point out the extreme bias of social media platforms, who silence conservative voices while permitting similar content on the left. This has led to an attack on Section 230 (which protects platforms from lawsuits for most user posts on their sites) from both sides. Progressives demand repeal because it allows too much conservative speech. And conservatives hate it because platforms moderate too much. But pressuring big tech companies, whose employees are overwhelmingly progressive, is not going to end well for conservatives.
I want to put an end to cancel culture like every other freedom-loving American, but I certainly don’t trust the federal government to be our savior. I voted for and support Section 230 because my colleagues and I saw the internet as an opportunity to expand freedom by shielding tech companies from trial lawyers and government regulators. Now conservatives who are rightfully angry about unfair treatment are hoping a Democrat-controlled Congress and the Biden administration’s regulators and trial lawyers will to come to their rescue. Good luck with that.
Even if conservatives are successful in repealing Section 230, Twitter could still ban President Trump’s account, and Amazon could still boot Parler from their servers. A repeal of Section 230 would turn big tech into publishers responsible for user content on their sites. I have little doubt the progressive leadership of these big tech firms would then side with their ideological soulmates and remove even more conservative speech. This would just transform social media into the mainstream media. Facebook would become the New York Times, Twitter would become MSNBC. There might be a successful conservative social media platform that arises in that environment, but it would be marginalized by the rest of big media and big tech—just like conservative media are today.
Some conservatives have advocated using antitrust law to break up big tech. They see censorship as evidence that the industry is not competitive enough. But the tech giants don’t censor because they lack competition. How many new apps and sites are popping up almost every day to challenge today’s tech leaders? Tech giants censor users partly because their leaders live in a progressive bubble, but also because they fear the progressive mob. Powerful Democrats in Washington have made it clear they want nothing more than to regulate and break up America’s successful tech industry.
Americans don’t like bullies, they don’t trust the federal government, and they don’t hold lawyers in high regard—so we have a winning message. But we can still lose if we mimic the tactics of cancel culture. We are a people of faith and family who were taught to love our neighbors and, yes, even our enemies. We have to stop being as caustic and hateful as the left is on social media, because that is not who we are.
We must counter the destructive effects of cancel culture on speech and other freedoms we hold dear, but the tactics we choose say as much about us as the goals we seek. We are not the movement that favors government regulation, punitive litigation, and bullying of those that don’t agree with us. We believe in markets, competition, and freedom of expression, even for speech that we disagree with.
We will win over more Americans to our cause if we show that we love them and want what is best for them. And I am not just talking about on social media, but in your home, your community, and at work, where we need to be willing to fight for the values that made this country the greatest in human history. Don’t despair, feel blessed to be an American at a time when our country needs you to stand up to the mob and make real personal sacrifices to keep America free. Isn’t that what patriots do?
Rick Santorum is a former United States senator from Pennsylvania.