According to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, tech corporations like Facebook and Twitter are not liable for any illegal activity that is facilitated through their networks.
Specifically, Section 230 states:
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” That means tech companies like Facebook or YouTube aren’t responsible for what’s posted on their platforms. The liability falls squarely on the user.
But according to a recent article by CNET, this could all change with the passing of the EARN-IT Act
The EARN IT Act was introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (Republican of South Carolina) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Democrat of Connecticut), along with Sen. Josh Hawley (Republican of Missouri) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Democrat of California) on March 5.
The premise of the bill is that technology companies have to earn Section 230 protections rather than being granted immunity by default, as the Communications Decency Act has provided for over two decades.
Proponents of the Bill
“Our bill would allow individuals to sue tech companies that don’t take proper steps to prevent online child exploitation, and it’s an important step to protect the most vulnerable among us.”
–Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California
Joe Biden, New York Times, Dec. 16, 2019
“The idea that it’s a tech company is that Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one.”
“it should be revoked. It should be revoked because it is not merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false, and we should be setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy. You guys still have editors. I’m sitting with them. Not a joke. There is no editorial impact at all on Facebook. None. None whatsoever. It’s irresponsible. It’s totally irresponsible. “
“Whether he engaged in something and amounted to collusion that in fact caused harm that would in fact be equal to a criminal offense, that’s a different issue. That’s possible. That’s possible it could happen.”
…”Putin doesn’t want me to be president.”
“Law enforcement is increasingly facing challenges due to the phenomenon of “warrant-proof” encryption. Service providers, device manufacturers, and application developers are deploying products and services with encryption that can only be decrypted by the end user or customer. Because of warrant-proof encryption, the government often cannot obtain the electronic evidence and intelligence necessary to investigate and prosecute threats to public safety and national security, even with a warrant or court order. This provides a “lawless space” that criminals, terrorists, and other bad actors can exploit for their nefarious ends.” Read more
It is obvious that police should be allowed limited/supervised access to these networks so long as they have received a court approved warrant, just like with any other communication network. That is not debatable.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, and these backdoors can be compromised.
“There is no such thing as a backdoor that can only be used by law enforcement.”
–Ted Harrington, executive partner at security company Independent Security Evaluators
“At this time, we’ve been unable to identify any way to create a backdoor that would work only for the good guys”
–Erik Neuenschwander, Manager of User Privacy at Apple
What is debatable is whether Mark Zuckerberg and his company should be held liable for content that his company did not produce, did not knowingly distribute, and had no reasonable way of controlling. It is impossible for these companies to profitably know about — and act upon — every single potential illegal activity that occurs on their networks, and it wouldn’t be fair to expect this of them either.
America is a country that is based strongly upon the idea of individual liberty, and tech corporations are simply trying to provide a medium for Americans to communicate — and that is it. The premise of rule 230 is that individuals should be responsible for what they do on social media, and not anybody else. To make these companies liable would infringe upon their right to provide a functional communication network to American citizens.
Is the Nasdaq ever held liable for the hundreds of malicious, disgusting pump and dumps that they indirectly facilitate through their exchange? Of course not. Why should they be. Certainly they have a responsibility to monitor unusual activity, but at the end of the day, they can only do so much before it inhibits their ability to provide a venue for American companies to raise capital.
This comes down to the principle of “specialization of labor”. It shouldn’t be Facebook’s job to play police officer because they both, do not have time for this (and shouldn’t be expected to), and nor are they law enforcement specialists; that’s why they pay taxes (sort of pay taxes), so the government can do this for them.
In reality, this is probably just the government looking for another excuse to exert more control over our lives. Our ability to instantly spread information online has subverted their capability to control our movements, our idea’s, our lives, and our speech, and if they can make Facebook liable for illegal activity that takes place on their platform, they can indirectly turn these tech corporations into conduits of censorship and mass surveillance.
This is already happening in places like Singapore, where corrupt politicians now have the ability to pressure Facebook into removing content that they deem to be “false’. If Joe Biden thinks something is false, should he and his agents have the right to force Facebook to remove it?