Nice Internet You Have Here. It'd Be a Shame If…

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Back on Monday, the WSJ published an op-ed by CongressCritters Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D). It was a plug for their proposal to "sunset" what our Amazon Product du Jour called "the twenty-six words that created the Internet": Sunset of Section 230 Would Force Big Tech’s Hand

The opening is unpromising:

The internet’s [sic] original promise was to help people and businesses connect, innovate and share information. Congress passed the Communications Decency Act in 1996 to realize those goals. It was an overwhelming success. Section 230 of the act helped shepherd the internet [sic again] from the “you’ve got mail” era into today’s global nexus of communication and commerce.

I'm old enough to remember that the Communications Decency Act was not meant to "help people and businesses connect, innovate and share information." In fact, it was the result of a "for the children" moral panic about Internet porn. And it was far from an "overwhelming success": it was blatantly unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court quickly and unanimously struck most of it down.

But Section 230 survived:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

Well, you can read the rest of the McMorris Rodgers/Pallone op-ed for yourself. But I'll recommend some counterpoints too, for example:

And if you prefer your counterpoints unTwittered, Elizabeth Nolan Brown has you covered, dubbing the proposal: The Worst Section 230 Bill Yet.

("There's an old saying that goes, 'How do you know when a politician is lying? His lips are moving.' These days, one can ask, 'How do you know when Section 230 is being misunderstood?' and answer, 'A politician is talking about it,'" Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression lawyer Robert Corn-Revere aptly wrote in Reason last year.)

McMorris Rodgers and Pallone go on to spew a litany of modern moral panics about tech companies. Big Tech is "refusing to strengthen their platforms' protections against predators, drug dealers, sex traffickers, extortioners and cyberbullies," they write, accusing Section 230 of making this possible.

But every big tech company has massive teams and tools devoted to stopping criminal and otherwise objectionable content on their platforms. Failing to do so can result in not only reputational harm and loss of advertising revenue but also potential criminal liability, as in the case of Backpage. Every incentive aligns for them to work hard to block "predators, drug dealers, sex traffickers," etc. The fact that they can't entirely end bad actors from using their platforms isn't proof of Section 230's flaws but the fact that we live in reality. In the digital world as much as off of it, some bad actors will find a way to do harm, no matter folks' best intentions.

ENB embeds a 2020 Reason video in her article, and so shall I:

Also of note:

  • About time. Christian Britschgi reports that, long after the damage was widely recognized by nearly everyone else: Biden Administration Strips Federal Funding From Nonprofit at Center of COVID Lab Leak Controversy.

    Today, the Biden administration suspended federal funding to the scientific nonprofit whose research is at the center of credible theories that the COVID-19 pandemic was started via a lab leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

    This morning, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it was immediately suspending three grants provided to the New York-based nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance (EHA) as it starts the process of debarring the organization from receiving any federal funds.

    "The immediate suspension of [EcoHealth Alliance] is necessary to protect the public interest and due to a cause of so serious or compelling a nature that it affects EHA's present responsibility," wrote HHS Deputy Secretary for Acquisitions Henrietta Brisbon in a memorandum signed this morning.

    The lab-leak hypothesis: not just for the tinfoil-hatted any more.

  • They don't really care if it's true or not. Robert Graboyes looks at the Hamas-UN Bullshit Blood Libel.

    Hamas can’t or won’t produce water, electricity, food, jobs, or prosperity, but the terrorist organization is adept at producing bullshit statistics and contorted logic for antisemitic, gullible, and/or servile Westerners. In fact, Hamas propagandists aren’t very competent with statistical science, but the United Nations has always been happy to validate the output and share it with earth’s least discriminating audience.

    Sometimes, however, the burden of complicity becomes a bit much, so on May 8, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) acknowledged without adornment, apology, or explanation that their casualty statistics since October 7 have been grossly exaggerated. OCHA revised the number of children killed to less than half the numbers previously circulated. UN spokesman Farhan Haq offered a breezy, oops-a-daisy, coulda-happened-to-anyone non-explanation:

    “The revisions are taken … you know, of course, in the fog of war, it’s difficult to come up with numbers … We get numbers from different sources on the ground, and then we try to cross check them. As we cross check them, we update the numbers, and we’ll continue to do that as that progresses.”

    In fact, OCHA obtains its data primarily from the Gaza Ministry of Health, which is run by Hamas and from the Government Media Office, which is run by Hamas. The Ministry, in turn, obtains its data from “independent media sources” in Gaza, which are run by Hamas. From there, OCHA acts as wholesale distributor to retail outlets like UNICEF, whose director, Catherine Russell (a former advisor to Presidents Obama and Biden) made the now-discredited numbers a centerpiece of her public analysis:

    “We haven’t seen that rate of death among children in almost any other conflict in the world.”

    The point is to advance the anti-Israel narrative. As long as that happens, truth, accuracy, and fairness are way down on their list of concerns.

  • Just to point out another long-running lie… NHJournal, to its credit, occasionally offers its pages to advocates taking different sides of a contentious issue. Such an issue is "school choice". Corey DeAngelis is a longtime proponent, and his short advocacy piece is Point: Parents Must End the Teachers Unions’ Stranglehold on Education.

    The opposing view is provided by Josh Cowen, "professor of education policy at Michigan State University", dedicated choice foe: Counterpoint: Vouchers Are Not the 'Civil Rights Issue of Our Time'.

    You can read the back-and-forth, and (you don't need my permission, but here it is anyway) make up your own mind. I just want to point out this bullshit in Cowen's piece:

    Beyond the data, it’s important to note that many of the same people pushing the claim that vouchers are a civil rights issue, are also those who want to ban teaching about racial inequality in public schools. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed the nation’s largest voucher bill last year, has also repeatedly insisted that slavery had some benefits for African Americans.

    Well, first, it's a lousy argument that says (in effect) position X is awful because "many of the same people" who favor Position X also (allegedly) adhere to Position Y and have asserted self-evidently abhorrent Position Z!

    But Cowen is referring to a minor issue from last July, the controversy over Florida’s State Academic Standards – Social Studies, 2023, which, on page 6 of its 216 pages, contains: "Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit."

    This happens to be true.

    Last July, I linked to an article by Charles C. W. Cooke, who analyzed the Veep's efforts to turn this into demagogic gold: Kamala Harris Is Lying about Florida’s Slavery Curriculum.

    NBC reports that Kamala Harris intends to visit Florida today to criticize its new school curriculum:

    In remarks Thursday, Harris blasted efforts in some states to ban books and “push forward revisionist history.”

    “Just yesterday in the state of Florida, they decided middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery,” she said at a convention for the traditionally Black sorority Delta Sigma Theta Inc. “They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it.”

    This is a brazen lie. It’s an astonishing lie. It’s an evil lie. It is so untrue — so deliberately and cynically misleading — that, in a sensible political culture, Harris would be obligated to issue an apology. Instead, NBC confirms that she will repeat the lie today during a speech in Jacksonville.

    Everything CCWC says about Kamala applies equally to Cowen.