How to Keep Online Speech Free

Originally published in the Wall Street Journal,

Mark Zuckerberg testified recently that he expects Facebook will soon employ artificial intelligence to identify and delete “hate speech.” Yet he struggled to define the term. He acknowledged last year that standards for acceptable speech are subjective: “Our community spans many countries and cultures, and the norms are different in each region,” making universal standards “less feasible.” The CEO concluded his company needs “to evolve toward a system of more local governance.”

Silicon Valley’s recent acquiescence to political censorship contrasts with the early days of social media, when the platforms were expected to herald global freedom.

Continue reading “How to Keep Online Speech Free”

Could America’s Big Tech Industry Create Free Speech Problems?

Originally published in the National Interest

Last week, the Senate passed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. The legislation amends Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act, which holds that online platforms cannot be responsible for their users’ content, to exclude sex trafficking. Big tech companies warned that the bill could inadvertently compel them to block controversial political speech. Though they lost the fight over this exception, the tech lobby hopes to expand their immunity across North America via NAFTA renegotiations, also invoking free expression.

Despite this rhetoric, Google and other social media giants cite Section 230 to defend their own censorship policies in court. Congress enacted the law in 1996 to nullify a court decision, which made online message board owners liable for their users’ posts under some circumstances. In response, the Communications Decency Act established that “interactive computer services” (ICSs), where users post content on another platform, cannot be “treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided.” Continue reading “Could America’s Big Tech Industry Create Free Speech Problems?”