Last week, the White House declared war on false information against vaccines and a moderate Facebook system. President Joe Biden said that Facebook and other social networks “killed people” by organizing false information about vaccines, even though he later softened the attack. Facebook strongly denied the accusation, promoting their vaccination efforts. And yesterday, the Biden administration repel with the worrying and unnecessary promise that it would “review” Internet law in response to misinformation.
I want to be clear: Pushing the White House vaccine is a good thing. The American COVID-19 cases are rises abruptly when the Delta strain of the virus spreads, less than half of all Americans are fully vaccinated and almost all of the latest COVID-19 deaths in the United States have been among unvaccinated people. A considerable number of Americans reports on believing theories such as “the U.S. government uses the COVID-19 vaccine on a population microchip,” the idea is literally formed and doesn’t even work. Companies like Facebook help spread these theories even if they also advertise reliable content. And elected officials can urge companies to stop harmful activity, even if it’s legal.
However, the White House has not specified the last part of the equation. Instead, it offers vague lines between reasonable control and unreasonable government repression by accepting the idea that Facebook should be legally “responsible” for false claims.
In an interview With MSNBC on misuse of vaccines Kate Bedingfield, Director of Communications at the White House, answered a question asking whether Biden would amend section 230 so that companies would “be responsible for publishing this information and then take legal action”. Bedingfield replied that “we will review it, and certainly they should be held accountable.”
The idea that § 230 prevents the fight against abuse is … well, misinformation. (And it is not the first time Biden suggested it, either.) Section 230 protects against litigation involving illegal content. With limited exceptions, the first amendment allows people to lie and be on the wrong network. The Biden administration has nothing to “check” unless they believe one of three things:
- False information about vaccinations is covered by existing exceptions to the First Amendment, such as defamation or fraud, and section 230 should no longer protect the companies that host them. (Messages that do, for example, by selling non-vaccine COVID-19 treatments may be eligible for this bill, but will probably not common misconception about vaccines.)
- False information about vaccinations is so harmful that it should be made illegal and Facebook should then be held responsible for disseminating users. (Congress could theoretically define and deny “false information,” but that would be an uphill battle against the protection of the First Change.)
- People should be encouraged to punish Facebook for hosting bad but legitimate content by making it fight against frivolous lawsuits that it will almost certainly win.
The White House can encourage the removal of false medical information without supporting the idea of taking Facebook to court about it. Lawyer and author Ken White (aka Popehat) pointed out on Twitter, Biden could have stressed from the start that Facebook has the right to allow a lot of false information for the first change, even though he thinks the site has a moral obligation to remove it.
Bedingfield could easily have brought up a similar interview, even leaving the door open to change section 230 in other ways – for example, “we believe we hold Big Tech accountable and review laws, including section 230, but we also respect the right of platforms to moderate legal content. to exercise this power responsibly. “
And when it comes to most of the false information online – especially information about a coronavirus pandemic, where even medical advice and scientific consensus in good faith are constantly changing – the U.S. government should continue to respect the right to maintain content. As Bedingfield later pointed out in an interview, it’s not like Facebook creates anti-vaccination messages from scratch; Big outlets like Fox News have contrary to vaccination measures. Allowing people to challenge Facebook to challenge their initialization would put indirect pressure on the press and individuals, not just on “Big Tech” regulation. At least one group has sued Fox News directly about the coverage and case of the coronavirus thrown out.
While the protections of the First Amendment are not limitless, denying scientific misinformation would almost certainly try backwards. Encouraging lawsuits from it would allow companies to put pressure on Facebook to remove stories of alleged pollution, dangerous products, or other flattering but controversial events. And the laws of fake news in other countries are become instruments of silence legal protest.
Biden’s administration, which makes this clear, would not dampen every critic who believes all social media moderation is censorship. (However, former President Donald Trump sued Facebook voluntarily seek policy guidance their own administration.) But it’s the right way to deal with a complex problem – one that maintains the White House’s commitment to protecting the First Amendment along with American health.