Instagram-New-twitter-X-Threads-Youtube-facebook-tik-tok-symbol-logo-png-free-download via

On May 31st, 2024, the Washington Times published an Op-Ed by ATR’s Federal Affairs Manager for Telecommunications, James Erwin.  

The Op-Ed discusses how a bill to sunset tech companies’ liability shield, known as Section 230, is being pushed by two high-ranking members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).

This bill will not help conservatives preserve speech but will allow Biden’s progressive administration to more aggressively censor or forbid speech that does not adhere to the left-wing orthodoxy in the digital town square.  

The piece begins with Erwin describing the Section 230 reform bill and warning that the bill is not going to benefit conservatives: 

A new bipartisan bill in Congress threatens conservative speech online. Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which makes users responsible for what they post online rather than the websites they post on, is the target of a new bipartisan bill that would “sunset” the provision by the end of 2025. Conservatives will be harmed if Section 230 is allowed to expire. 

Erwin questioned if the Section 230 reform bill is being pushed in good faith: 

The two leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), trumpeted their new bill in the pages of the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago, claiming it would “force big tech’s hand.” They assert that with the liability shield gone, tech companies would come together to negotiate a new settlement. What exactly this new arrangement would look like is unclear, and the expedited mark-up the bill received last week did not shed much light on the matter. 

With McMorris Rodgers retiring at the end of this year, conservatives who feel aggrieved by tech companies’ treatment of them should be especially suspicious of anything Frank Pallone is leading. Does anyone really think the new regime he negotiates will be better for the political right? 

The piece highlighted how sunsetting Section 230 will help the progressive left: 

Progressive Democrats want to distract from the fact that the federal government is the driver of social media censorship. Indeed, as the Twitter Files, subsequent Congressional investigations, and discovery from the Supreme Court case Murthy v. Missouri have documented, political censorship on social media is almost entirely driven by pressure from government officials. Punishing tech companies for reacting to government pressure would be shooting the messenger while leaving the FBI and DHS agents threatening Americans’ civil liberties to strike another day, which they are already moving to do

Erwin provided two reasons why Section 230 has benefited Americans and even Conservatives:  

Section 230 is badly misunderstood in our public discourse. It does not provide unlimited liability protection for tech companies, but rather prevents a constant stream of lawsuits for what users post on social media. Without it, no church, small business, or rotary club could run a website without risking lawsuits from trial lawyers looking to raise money for Democrats.  

Conservatives should also appreciate how Section 230 has enabled them to bypass the gatekeepers of the mainstream media – whom they also complain about – and compete on a level playing field with the left. By any objective measure, social media has been a boon to the right. Would Donald Trump have gotten anywhere in 2016 without Twitter? Would Pierre Poilievre be competitive for Prime Minister of Canada today if not for his aggressive social media strategy? 

Erwin credited Elon Musk, the owner of the X Corp (formerly known as Twitter), as an enormous factor in preserving free speech online: 

Speaking of Musk, his purchase of what we once called Twitter should put to bed any calls to do away with Section 230. To the extent free speech was threatened online by social media platforms, Musk’s purchase demonstrates that there is a market solution to the problem. There was unserved market for a platform committed to free speech, so competitors like Parler started going after Twitter’s market share, then a billionaire investor bought the legacy platform and transformed it to reach this market. 

Without Section 230, X would be bankrupt from a mountain of lawsuits, and other platforms would censor anything DC bureaucrats don’t like to avoid them. 

The article concludes by stating that: 

Anyone concerned about free speech should oppose this hasty and misguided effort to destroy the law that has allowed the internet and political debate to flourish in tandem. The survival of online conservative speech depends on it. 

Read the full op-ed here