Democrats need a united front against GOP attempts to regulate social media
The internet collectively breathed a sigh of relief last month after the Supreme Court temporarily blocked Texas HB20 – a proposal that would ban online platforms from removing hateful, violent and spammy content, forcing them to host it. It’s the latest Republican attempt at government intervention that they say will prevent the “censorship” of conservative views.
The court’s decision was quick and came out in favor of preserving the current freedom to moderate online services – for now. But Democrats calling on companies to remove harmful content must understand the urgency of what’s still at stake.
Currently, online services can remove so-called “lawful but awful” speech. If someone were to post an animal abuse video on Facebook, Meta can remove it. If a Russian troll were to tweet misinformation, Twitter could ban them and remove the content. And if someone were to post violent and white supremacist content on YouTube, the platform could remove it. Speech content is legal, but removed by platforms to keep their communities healthy and inviting.
If Texas gets its way, platforms won’t be able to remove this content by making it illegal for platforms with more than 50 million monthly users to moderate posts based on “viewpoint.” But the same way Congress can’t compel The New York Times to cover certain topics, Texas can’t compel social media companies to host certain types of speech.
The issues here are very real. Meta announced last fall that it had removed more than 20 million pieces of Facebook content containing misleading information about COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Democrats called on companies to go even further, introducing legislation that would hold social platforms themselves accountable for health-related misinformation on their platforms.
But proposals like Texas’s would have expressly prevented companies from taking any action to prevent misinformation posted by users. And while Republican state lawmakers are drafting bills requiring platforms to spread despicable content, the response from Democratic lawmakers in Congress has been lacking.
Some progressive organizations have sounded the alarm. As the Supreme Court considered Texas’ new social media law, our organization, Chamber of Progress, led a coalition of groups opposed to the legislation, including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League, as well as safety groups LGBT and child protection organizations. Progressives want to allow more content moderation, not less.
If Democratic lawmakers really want tech companies to moderate content and remove harmful content, now would be the time to call out the Texas law.
The big questions about the future of freedom of expression online will be answered in the coming year. Texas case to return to appeals court for ruling on underlying law, and more bills with similar intentions will likely make their way through Republican legislatures. If allowed to pass, they will cripple the ability of technology platforms to prevent misinformation, violence and hate from spreading online.
Democratic leaders are right to keep pushing tech to do more to mitigate harmful content. But they must also defend the legal ability of companies to do so — and strong opposition to GOP proposals like HB20 would be an important first step.
Adam Kovacevich is the founder of Chamber of Progress, a center-left tech industry political coalition promoting the progressive future of technology; Chamber of Progress partner companies include Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook.