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Should Facebook and Twitter be deciding what’s truthful?


What Facebook and Twitter should or should not allow has come to light recently as both social media companies appeared to have throttled the New York Post story related to Hunter Biden and China. Former Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss the legal ramifications.

“A provision in a federal law called the Communications Decency Act of 1996 and in particular Section 230 of that act, basically immunizes website owners from any liability for content posted by third parties. It also immunizes them when they choose to take content down that’s objectionable,” he said.

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“So Congress has been starting to talk seriously about limits on that immunity. And more recently, President Trump has issued an executive order saying, ‘Look, if Twitter flags my posts or restricts access to someone’s content based on political ideology, then they’re actually acting as a publisher, and they shouldn’t enjoy immunity from a lawsuit.’ So this idea of blanket immunity for all website owners is under attack from the left, the right, and the center.”

Is it within Facebook’s rights to block the spread of story that they consider to be poorly sourced?

“Well, apparently this is an expansion of the concept of objectionable content. This is, if you will, they’re sharpening the sword that allows them to take content down and the ability for the website owner to take content down was clearly something that Congress was trying to protect, if the content that was being removed was deemed to be sufficiently objectionable,” he said.

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“Our idea of what is objectionable, which would include fake news, if you will, or foreign posted content trying to influence the election–that idea is expanded because people have found new and creative and newly created dangerous ways to use the internet. The challenge for these companies is as they move down that path, they look more and more like publishers, and less and less like just a blank bulletin board that people post stuff on.”

But their incentive is not necessarily to take that responsibility.

“It has been historically, but Facebook has been under so much pressure over attempts to manipulate the election originating from overseas. Other websites have been under their own pressure for allowing really abhorrent content. That cost has been rising, and therefore they have to react to it. Because it’s not just about being able to host free content anymore. They have to assume some responsibility for it,” he said.

In the interest of full disclosure, McKenna has done some personal work with Facebook, but not around these issues, he noted.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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