In the wake of the raid on the US capitol in January, the amount of moderation by social media companies has increased significantly. The moderation heavy approach is due to social media’s part in the now-infamous raid in terms of spreading information about the riot and encouraging it. This move places more controversial conservative figures in the crosshairs of moderation teams who attempt to “discourage hate and violence” through heavy-handed means. The application of these moderation attempts is now in question, and legislators are trying to step in.
GOP state lawmakers are starting to push laws that allow individuals to sue companies for having their posts taken down. These laws could penalize companies based on the number of posts taken down with financial penalties up to tens of thousands of dollars. This new suite of laws challenges the status quo of big social media giants being immune from legal measures. Punitive legal measures will have to conquer the infamous CDA section 230 to succeed, though.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives big tech companies and other platforms a strong liability shield from information that is posted on their sites. This law means that social media companies can sleep at night and not worry about lawsuits. Legal shielding has proven to be a double-edged sword as some companies have been accused of hosting unsavory or hateful information, but individuals can not do much about it. Unchecked freedom for social media giants has made many question the merits of CDA 230 and whether it should finally be canned; However, the push for punitive laws against big tech is only one part of the picture.
Both GOP and Democrat representatives have had their crosshairs on social media ever since the latest federal elections. Democrats complain that social media giants have not done enough to censor false information in the wake of recent political events. GOP representatives complain that social media giants have unfairly censored conservative voices too much. Social media giants are currently in a catch-22 where someone will be pissed off no matter what.
Another side of the proposed regulation is that it will fuel the pro-Trump republican base in the wake of Biden’s victory in 2020. Stoking the flames will be essential if GOP leaders want to win seats in the 2022 midterm elections as Democrats will most likely be less energized compared to 2020. Regardless of whether the legislation passes, republicans across the country will be moved to take action against the blue tide.
In terms of the actual effects of the proposed legislation the possible damage to the social media ecosystem could be huge. False information could flood social media even more in the wake of anti-censorship social media laws of the future. A new flood of fake info would create a repeat of the 2016 election fiasco. Another possible effect would be making social media companies even more reserved to protect their legal bases. Special approved accounts and limited posting could be a form of controlling potential lawsuits. Finally, government overregulation could destroy social media and all online platforms in irreparable ways. Popular mainstream platforms could collapse or completely restructure their business to be non-sharable.
The mounting legal pressure on big tech is starting to kick in, and new laws are only the beginning. More hearings and committees are sure to follow as legislators on both sides seek to take down Silicon Valley and friends. If Biden’s administration joins the cause, corporate entities will be torn down in a bi-partisan frenzy. The next few years will be very interesting for the controversial tech giants in more ways than one.