Moving Social Media Beyond 230

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Remember when Twitter only allowed 140 characters per message and everybody had to edit and serialize to make their points, and then the platform went to 280 characters, and it seemed ideas could fit a bit better.

That shift comes to mind upon seeing that President Trump appears to be playing a little bit of legislative hardball to get a law relevant to social media changed:

President Donald Trump is vowing to veto the National Defense Authorization Act unless Congress repeals a section of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that shields social media platforms from liability for what users post on them.

His comments came in tweets posted Tuesday night. He wrote: “Section 230, which is a liability shielding gift from the U.S. to ‘Big Tech’ (the only companies in America that have it – corporate welfare!), is a serious threat to our National Security & Election Integrity. Our Country can never be safe & secure if we allow it to stand.

“Therefore, if the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk. Take back America NOW. Thank you!”

It would be understandable for the president to focus on national security even if he weren’t the character he is.  Not only does doing so provide the hook to link his demand to the NDAA, but it also is the level at which presidents should think.

However, the move to take Section 230 protections away from social media is needed for individual protection, too.  I’ve been censored for so much as suggesting that some of the rhetoric around the same-sex marriage movement is misplaced.  (At least, that’s why I think Twitter censored me.)  Yet, the platform is famous for its ability to slander people and pressure their employers to fire them, or otherwise do them concrete and specific real-world harm.

The bottom line really is this simple:  If a social media platform is simply a forum providing a public square for others’ use, then an additional shield against lawsuits is understandable.  However, when they start executing editorial judgment, they make themselves responsible for the content that they allow.  They have, in essence, approved it.

When purported adults in the news media jumped to the conclusion that high-school-student Nicholas Sandmann deserved their public condemnation based on a cut-short video clip, they opened themselves and their employers up to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for the harm they had stupidly done him.  The social media giants’ irresponsibility, bias, and dishonesty should put them in a position to have to make the next Nicholas Sandmann a billionaire.