(Photo Illustration: Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
Without Section 230, conservatives will lose the only avenue around the mainstream media — an avenue that reaches a broad audience of American voters.During the Trump years, many fans of the president have begged for alternatives to Facebook, Twitter, and Google, complaining that those platforms are too harsh in moderating conservative news and views. Building a new social-media platform is a Herculean task. Despite this, new platforms, such as Parler and Rumble, that are friendlier to conservatives have now emerged.
And they are thriving. Twitter alternative Parler, the most-downloaded app in the U.S. during the week after the election, has passed 10 million users already. YouTube competitor Rumble targets conservatives and anticipates growing its 60 million user base to 80 million by the end of this year. Parler investor Dan Bongino claims these apps are growing by thousands per minute, as Bongino urges his Twitter followers to join the exodus.
Competition is working. These services are demonstrating that barriers to entry for new social-media sites are hardly insurmountable, as new users flocking there with their friends and fans in-tow. So why do some continue to clamor for antitrust action against yesterdays social-media leaders?
These new, conservative-friendly platforms now face an existential threat from a bipartisan group of D.C. lawmakers that could derail these new services as soon as they leave the station. For completely different reasons, these congressmen and senators want to eliminate the one law thats essential for Parler, Rumble, and future alternative sites to host user content: Section 230.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is the foundation for all social-media sites and e-commerce marketplaces we use every day. Congress enacted Section 230 in 1996, reacting to a ridiculous court ruling holding online bulletin board Prodigy liable for user posts slamming Stratton Oakmont — the pump-and-dump stock brokers portrayed in The Wolf of Wall Street. This law says that a platforms users — not the platforms themselves — are responsible for the content they post. And it protects a platform from being sued for removing content that the platform deems objectionable to its audience and advertisers.
Without Section 230, Yelp could be sued for negative restaurant reviews. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube — along with Parler and Rumble — could be sued for defamatory content posted by users. Like Twitter and YouTube, Parler and Rumble will need to moderate user content in order to attract advertisers. But without Section 230, they too could be sued for removing or restricting content.
While Section 230 enabled the explosion of user-created content online, it has also been pilloried from both ends of the political spectrum: Conservatives blame the law when their more-provocative content is restricted or removed by the big social-media platforms; but progressives blame the same platforms for failing to remove what they see as hate speech and misinformation. So some want to get rid of 230 because it limits speech, while others want to eliminate 230 because it doesnt limit enough speech! As a senator, I always felt that when both the Left and the Right complained about my support of a compromise reached on legislation, it was likely a fair compromise.
Washington is no longer a place where compromises are forged. Who knows how Congress or the administration will reconcile those opposing priorities. But I can predict that any change by a Biden administration wont go well for conservatives. Biden and congressional Democrats want to make Section 230 protections contingent on whether a platform does thorough fact-checking to prevent misinformation — according to rules set by Democrats and bureaucrats. You could argue that liberals at social-media companies do that now. But a change in Section 230 would affect all sites, not just ones run by Big Tech. And it is much easier to fight Big Tech than big government.
Some, such as President Trump and a few Democrats, want to repeal Section 230 and unleash a flood of lawsuits over content moderation on the big platforms. Are conservatives really for zero content moderation on these sites? One can only imagine the graphic cesspool that would ensue without some enforceable standards. And which sites would be better prepared to fight the suits — big platforms that have thousands of content moderators and a stable of lawyers, or startups such as Parler and Rumble that have neither?
Repealing Section 230 would therefore make it impossible for sites to host provocative conservative content that would trigger a flood of lawsuits from naturally litigious progressives. The Left hates competition, so in no time they would push online Americans back into the arms of now government-regulated Big Tech and the mainstream media. Gutting Section 230 would be a gut-punch for emerging social-media platforms that provide a competitive portal for President Trumps fans.
Social media has been pivotal for every congressional and presidential election in the last decade and was essential for President Trump to reach blue-collar conservatives in both of his campaigns. From Ben Shapiro and Dinesh DSouza to PragerU, conservatives use both legacy and emerging online platforms to share their views with millions of Americans.
Followers of President Trump should join their brethren at Parler and Rumble, while keeping up the fight on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to engage in the battle of ideas with their broader audiences of moderates and independent voters. Talking to ourselves is not a winning election strategy.
We justifiably want todays Big Tech platforms to treat conservative content more fairly, but repealing Section 230 is not the answer. If conservatives want an Internet that is friendlier to our views, we should vigorously defend the law that empowers diverse online voices. At the same time, we should continue to publicly hold social media to account, and support new social-media businesses that host conservative content. But without Section 230, conservatives will lose the only avenue around the mainstream media — an avenue that reaches a broad audience of American voters.