Censorship is worse than hate speech, by Corey Friedman
Social media companies are barely lifting a finger at police anti-Semitism on their platforms, researchers said of an international digital watchdog charge in an explosive report released last month.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate tracked posts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok and surprised sleeping tech giants at the proverbial switch. Cumulatively, companies have failed to remove 84 percent of anti-Jewish screeds reported to websites as breaches of their terms of service, the CCDH revealed in its 28-page report titled “Failure to Protect.”
The advocacy group’s diagnosis – tech companies are woefully incompetent when it comes to enforcing their own rules – is absolutely correct. But the remedy proposed by the CCDH is worse than the disease.
“Failure to Protect” ends with five recommendations. Four are obvious, common-sense suggestions that Big Tech should voluntarily embrace, and they make up half a page of the report. The recommendation listed first, to which one and a half pages of space is devoted, calls for government censorship.
“If lawmakers are to prevent hate from eating into our society, they must learn from the success of others in dealing with social media platforms that make racism, abuse and hatred a megaphone,” says the CCDH.
The “others” that the United States should learn from? European countries with strict hate speech laws.
A full-blown attack on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act ensues. The CCDH says the revision of the law would create “financial disincentives to tolerate hate extremism”.
“When a platform does not act in a reasonable manner, after sufficient warnings, and when it does not deploy its vast resources to avoid the damage generated on its platform, the courts should be free to decide whether a a person aggrieved by his inaction has suffered a crime which deserves restitution and compensation, ”the report said.
Section 230 protects website operators from liability for hosting third-party user content, but changing or repealing it would not open the doors of the courthouse to every Facebook and YouTube user who spots a offensive message. There are no crimes in US law that deal with anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. The First Amendment excludes such claims.
Without the protection afforded by Section 230, users could sue social media for libel and libel under a vicarious liability theory. These crimes come into play when someone publishes false factual allegations about specific people that damage their reputation. The spread of hatred against the Jewish people as an ethnic or religious minority is not prosecutable, as no plaintiff could represent all Jews or prove that a single social media post caused material harm to millions of people.
The report compares the United States with Germany and the United Kingdom. Germany’s Network Enforcement Act fines platforms that fail to suppress hate speech, and an online safety bill in Parliament would allow the UK government to regulate social media by roughly the same way.
Hate speech bans are unconstitutional in the United States, whose founders were wise enough to recognize that giving the government the power to censor its citizens is more dangerous than allowing fanatics to spit bile in a marketplace. ideas where reasonable people can rebut and reprimand them.
Germany’s drive to suppress anti-Semitism may seem rational, but its zeal to atone for Hitler’s atrocities ignores a sad irony. The Nazis used censorship as a weapon, burning books, shutting down newspapers and making criticism of the government illegal. The way to truly repudiate Nazi totalitarianism is to deprive the state of its power to punish speakers, not just to change the type of speech that justifies the punishment.
The CCDH does not advocate directly for the abolition of the First Amendment, but that is what the adoption of its full range of recommendations would require. Giving Section 230 a little pinch won’t do.
In another recent report, the organization calls out social media companies for allowing the spread of anti-vaccination conspiracy theories and identifies the top 12 sources of COVID-19 disinformation. His work on this project is commendable.
If the center ever publishes a report on legal and constitutional disinformation, however, its ill-motivated flanks against Article 230 and freedom of expression in “Failure to Protect” would force the CCDH to register as a perpetrator.
Corey Friedman is an opinion journalist who explores solutions to political conflicts from an independent perspective. Follow him on Twitter @coreywrites. To learn more about Corey Friedman and read articles from other Creators writers and designers, visit the Creators web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Pixelkult at Pixabay