New big tech rules will harm conservatives – Press Enterprise



Conservatives traditionally have understood that excessive government regulation, especially at the federal and international level, imposes onerous restrictions on private enterprise, causes unforeseen consequences and leads to unnecessary litigation and government meddling in private decisions. Yet many of them have forgotten those lessons when it comes to the nation’s big technology firms.

Frustrated by what they legitimately see as Big Tech censorship of right-leaning opinions on internet sites (even though conservative pundits often dominate the social-media rankings), many conservatives have embraced a wide range of regulatory proposals — many of which are spearheaded by progressives who have dramatically different objectives.

To channel journalist H.L. Mencken, these right-leaning regulation supporters ought to be careful for what they wish for — because they are about to get it, good and hard. That’s especially true when it comes to legislation that would remove liability protections from companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and YouTube that host third-party content.

Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act declares that “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.” Republicans argue that tech companies’ de-platforming decisions turn them into de facto publishers — so they ought to lose these protections.

The difference between moderating and publishing is crucial. Currently, if, say, a commenter posts something potentially libelous, the aggrieved party may sue the commenter — but not the company that runs the hosting platform. By contrast, people can sue traditional publishers because they control the content that they print or post on their websites.

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“Big Tech platforms should not be allowed to use the shield of Section 230, which was designed to foster an open internet, to censor first amendment protected free speech,” said House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., this month. If tech companies lose those protections, they will have two choices — take a hands-off approach or begin tightly editing everything that’s posted.

These companies are unlikely to embrace the first approach, given that it would turn these sites into the equivalent of your email spam folder or what’s found on the uncontrolled dark web. Instead, they will even more tightly moderate or edit comments, which would mean conservatives will struggle even more with Silicon Valley censors.

Consider Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s legislation, the Health Misinformation Act, which would remove the “liability shield for platforms with algorithms that promote health-related misinformation related to an existing public health emergency.” That would turn regulators into the arbiter of proper information — and won’t bode well for conservatives or the First Amendment.

Conservatives are leery of that proposal, but have signed on to other Democratic measures. Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Chuck Grassley of Iowa have co-sponsored Klobuchar bills that would, respectively, limit the ability of tech companies to acquire other companies and engage in “self-preferencing” — favoring their own products on their sites. Lawmakers are floating myriad proposals.

“Big tech companies are facing the biggest expansion in potential technology regulation in a generation,” the Wall Street Journal reported. Instead of cheering this on, conservatives and Republicans ought to be raising warning flags. Despite their frustrations with tech firms, they understand better than others that when big government meddles in private industry, the results rarely are good.

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