The danger of rewriting Section 230

In the 25 years I have been following news and politics, one thing I have consistently heard from conservatives is that the government that governs least governs best. Government programs are ineffective and often counterproductive in solving the problem they set out to solve. The aim to “do something” about a problem is misguided if doing nothing is better than doing something that makes the problem worse.

Unfortunately, many conservatives have lost sight of these guiding principles in our frustration with social media censorship of conservatives and the dishonest rationalizations for it. I have personally fallen into this trap and expressed support for stripping Facebook of protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and I was wrong.

Section 230 is the backbone of the Internet as we know it today. That allows interactive content providers (blogs, legacy news media websites, conservative media, social media and forums) to allow and moderate user-generated content without fear of criminal or civil liability for that content. Without Section 230, there would be no social media, no personal websites, no blogs, no forums and no comment sections.

Here is something to consider. Giant tech companies like Facebook and Google have armies of attorneys and lobbyists to insulate them from big government action. Smaller startups providing an alternative outlet do not have that advantage, and are much more likely to be harmed by government action than Big Tech.

Furthermore, having government meddle in Big Tech’s moderation practices might actually produce more censorship, not less – especially if big platforms could be subject to criminal and/or civil liability for users’ posts. They will be much more likely to take down user-generated content and much more quick to ban troublesome users if those users could harm the entire platform.

But there is a more basic reason why conservatives should not support government action to “protect free speech” online. We should respect the property rights of the content providers, and not dictate to them how they run their business. Second, it is a violation of their free speech rights to force them to host speech they do not like. Compelled speech is as much of a violation of the First Amendment as censorship.

Conservatives are right to be frustrated with the way social media has censored conservative content, but a top-down solution from the federal government is not the answer. If anything, it will make the problem worse. We certainly should not support the President unilaterally making changes to Section 230 via executive order without the consent of Congress. This is not a conservative policy. It is just more big government.