Almost every day, it seems as though a Big Tech company has deplatformed another user. User content is blocked or removed continually.
What is being done to hold Big Tech accountable for its actions? What is Section 230 in U.S. law, and does it need to be reformed? How can we protect both free speech and free markets?
“These tech companies have become very destructive in so many different ways, and it is time for Congress to act on behalf of the American people, on behalf of parents, and on behalf of our children and the young generation,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., says.
Rodgers, who leads House Republicans’ task force on Big Tech Censorship and Data, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to answer these questions and explain what Congress is doing to protect Americans’ free speech rights on social media platforms.
We also cover these stories:
- Following face-to-face talks with Ukrainian counterparts in Istanbul, Turkey, officials on Tuesday, Russian officials announce a reduction in military operations near the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv.
- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., says Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should resign over his wife’s actions.
- The Food and Drug Administration gives emergency authorization to a second booster shot for the COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: I am so pleased today to be joined by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us once again here on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Thanks. Great to be with you again.
Allen: Well, you head the task force on Big Tech Censorship and Data for the House Republicans, and this is an issue that is really of concern to all of us because daily we are seeing more and more issues of these Big Tech platforms censoring conservatives in particular. Even at The Daily Signal, we’ve experienced that of content being taken down. What, to you, are a couple of the most egregious examples of Big Tech censorship?
McMorris Rodgers: Yes, unfortunately, there’s too many examples. Probably one that is still being played out today is the example of Hunter Biden and his emails on his laptop and the New York Post story that, just days before the election in 2020, was censored. It was taken down. It was blocked. New York Post was blocked days leading up to the election. And now it is playing out even today where we are learning more about these emails and that they are, in fact, legitimate, right? So, that’s one.
There’s the example of COVID-19 origins when, at the beginning of COVID-19 for months, actually, well over a year, any mention of the potential of COVID being originated at a Wuhan lab in China was blocked.
But there’s also examples where individuals, members of Congress, conservatives have been blocked or taken down by these platforms, certainly. There’s a lot of different examples.
And there’s a big difference between taking down illegal content and then censoring political speech, free speech. As Americans, one of our constitutional values, fundamental values, fundamental rights, is the right to free speech and it includes political speech.
Allen: Absolutely. And you yourself say there’s no silver bullet to fix all of this in one fell swoop. That would be nice, but it’s just not practical. But you do talk about needed changes to something called Section 230. So let’s dive in and talk a little bit about that. Can you first just explain what Section 230 is?
McMorris Rodgers: Yes. Section 230 is in the law. It was put into place in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, long before Google, Facebook, Twitter were even dreamed of, right?
1996, Section 230 was put into place. And it was to encourage future platforms to moderate content. And the goal was to incentivize these platforms, companies, to moderate content—so illegal content, illicit content.
At the time, there was a big debate over pornography or criminal activity, that companies would be protected from liability. … Take the example of Twitter, if they’re not originating this content, if you’re posting something else that happened or an article or a statement, you’re not originating that content, and tech companies were arguing, “Well, we can’t be held liable for this content.”
So there was a grand compromise and the goal was to create the incentives for these companies to moderate the illegal, the illicit material, in exchange for immunity protections from lawsuits. So they wouldn’t be held liable for this content.
The way that it has been interpreted in the years after 1996 has really given them, unfortunately, the courts have given them blanket immunity. There’s examples where illegal activity, sex trafficking, or the individual who bought a pill thinking that it was Oxycontin when it was laced with fentanyl off of Twitter, and yet Twitter can’t be held liable, right? So the liability protections have been pretty broad.
… Also, it’s not just illegal, illicit material, but now we see where, through algorithms, they are promoting certain content. So they’re absolutely deciding what’s going to be shared and promoted through their algorithms and that’s different than just hosting the site.
So I believe that we need to address Section 230. We need to incentivize more content to be left up, that the battle of ideas that we’ve long cherished as Americans need to be protected. So one of the proposals is making changes to Section 230. This is fundamental to addressing the censorship question and how do we prevent these platforms from continuing to censor?
And I’m working with [Rep.] Jim Jordan from the Judiciary Committee on draft legislation that would remove those Section 230 provisions for the larger companies and hold them accountable for a new set of rules, while protecting those liability protections for the smaller startups, the new innovators, the Parlers, the Gettr, the Truth media of the future. We want them to be able to compete and grow. And, in fact, Truth today is using Section 230 immunity protections to grow their platform. So we’re trying to thread the needle.
Allen: Yeah, no, that’s definitely a needle that needs to be thread. And thank you. I think that’s a really helpful explanation to kind of hear some of the background of Section 230 and then what you-all, among the House Republicans, are trying to do to really protect Americans and to ensure those free speech rights.
So when we dive in and when we talk about these various instances of tech censorship, what are some of the other policies that you and your colleagues are promoting and are discussing in order to stop so much censorship happening?
McMorris Rodgers: Another pillar that’s really important is around privacy. Clearly these companies are collecting a ton of data, personal information on citizens of this country and beyond. We need to take action that will protect our privacy.
Our personally identifiable information, it’s like a property right. I mean, that’s pretty fundamental to who we are and we need a privacy law that will ensure that we know what’s being collected, how it’s being shared, and how it’s being used and if it’s being sold, and empower the individual to protect that private information. So a privacy law is really important.
I also believe that the issue around the harm of these platforms, Facebook and Twitter, and these platforms, social media on our young people needs to be addressed. I am heartbroken by the number of stories I hear today of young people that are being harmed by these platforms.
Cyberbullying—I’ve talked to parents whose kids were the victims of cyberbullying and parents felt like they had no place to go. Kids who committed suicide in response to this activity. Others, it is the anxiety, the stress, the mental health that has been driven by these companies, but also the illegal activity.
I mentioned access to drugs on these platforms or human trafficking that’s taking place on these platforms. I just talked to a mom in Spokane [Washington] who lost her son, a 23-year-old son, the day after Thanksgiving. Friday morning, she found him dead. He had bought Oxycontin thinking it was Oxycontin off of Snapchat. It was laced in fentanyl and he died.
So we’re proposing to ensure more transparency, ideas to equip parents to protect their kids from the uses of these platforms.
And another one I would mention on censorship is demanding that there would be a way for someone to appeal the decision. So if you are subject to your individual or your site being taken down, you would be able to appeal that decision in a short amount of time. Also, requiring transparency of the platforms as to why they’re making those decisions, and that would all have to be made public.
Allen: Excellent. Thank you so much for breaking that down. … What we’ve really seen in the past few years is that even among conservatives, there’s quite a bit of debate about what do we do with these Big Tech companies? Because of course, as conservatives, we champion free markets and we want companies to be able to make their way and forge ahead, but we also champion free speech and protection of those rights.
Is there agreement among House Republicans about how to solve these issues and how to move forward on things like Section 230? Are you all united?
McMorris Rodgers: The goal is to agree on a package of bills that will hold Big Tech accountable, that will ensure that we are protecting free speech and the battle of ideas because that is so fundamental and, as conservatives, we are seeking a lot of input.
My goal is to be ready on Day One, on Day One of January 2023, that we would be able to hammer out what we believe are going to be very, very strong and effective reforms that will hold Big Tech accountable while also protecting the free markets.
As you said, we believe in free markets. We believe in competition. And that’s fundamental to these reforms, that the smaller companies and the new competitors are able to be competitive. We are welcoming that input so that we’re ready on Day One with conservative reforms because we’re going to have to be united if we have any chance of being successful.
So the work that we’re doing over these few months is critical to that overall success and having a set of reforms. Sometimes something sounds good, but then it turns out not to be what we thought.
There was a time when President [Donald] Trump called for the outright repeal of Section 230 and he actually vetoed the [National Defense Authorization Act], saying that we need to repeal Section 230. Most have concluded since then that that actually would’ve only further entrenched the big guys and that the very 230 immunity protections that would’ve been vetoed are what are being used right now by Truth, his media company, in order to grow and to be competitive.
There’s another one that is debated around common carrier and whether or not these Big Tech companies should be treated as common carriers. I think some who have been promoting that are now recognizing that that might actually entrench them also, that we would put them into the law as a monopoly. I don’t necessarily want Twitter around for the end of time, right? I want a reform proposal that will actually challenge Twitter and be competitive to Twitter.
So those are some of the questions that we’re having to debate right now.
Allen: Yeah. And what about among Democrats? Is there bipartisan support between Republicans and Democrats to recognize, “OK, there are changes that need to take place, reforms are needed”? And is there collaboration across the aisle to say, “OK, we can work together on some of these reforms”?
McMorris Rodgers: There’s been some conversations. Unfortunately, when it comes to censorship, when it comes to protecting free speech, we’ve had hearings in the House, in the Energy and Commerce Committee, the Democrats’ proposals are really focused on more government, more government regulation, and advocating that we need to address misinformation and disinformation, but that’s just another way for them to control what actually would be on these platforms.
So there’s a big debate between government regulating and controlling in the name of misinformation, disinformation, versus those of us who believe in the battle of ideas, free speech, and that the answer to information that is false is actually more information. It is to get it out there so you can have the battle of ideas and so that you can expose when something that is being said is actually false.
Allen: Well, before we let you go, I do want to ask you personally, you’re a mom, and I think so many parents struggle with social media. And as lawmakers move forward, as they look for solutions, that’s obviously so critical, but there’s an immediate need for individuals in their own homes to kind of be judging, “OK, how do we set boundaries on things like time on Instagram and Snapchat and all these things?” What would be your words of wisdom, as you’re talking with parents in your state and even across the country who are seeing the negative implications of social media on their kids? What’s any advice that you would offer to parents in America?
McMorris Rodgers: Well, as a mom, I know firsthand it’s a battle every day. We’re living it in my household. I have three school-aged kids and the screens are a continual battle and so much of our lives take us to the screens.
I have examples in my own household, among my kids, that it’s frightening to me how quickly they can get down a path on the internet or on some of these sites that is very destructive. So it only underscores my passion for this issue that, as a parent, my biggest fear has become these Big Tech companies. And we’re limited in my household and parents need to be equipped.
Right now, it’s not a fair fight. It is extremely difficult for parents to control what’s happening on these devices, and that’s why we need to take action, we need to equip parents, we need to protect our kids, we need to ensure our constitutional rights, freedom of speech, the battle of ideas continues in this country.
And these tech companies have become very destructive in so many different ways and it is time for Congress to act on behalf of the American people, on behalf of parents, and on behalf of our children and the young generation.
Allen: Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.
McMorris Rodgers: It’s great to be with you. Thank you.
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