I recently spoke on the Senate floor about
the importance of free speech. Today I’d like to speak on the power of Big Tech
to censor free speech.
It has been 25 years since Section 230 of
the Communications Decency Act was
signed into law. This law grants wide sweeping immunity to interactive computer
services that host third party content.
The goal of Section 230 was laudable. The
internet was in its infancy and content being posted to message boards by third
parties was leading to litigation that threatened the spread of free speech and
expression. Section 230 was enacted to encourage free speech while giving
companies the ability to remove illegal or obscene materials. Section 230 and
the legal shield it offers helped to enable the internet to grow into what we
However, interactive computer services are
no longer struggling companies but some of the largest corporations in the
world today. When Section 230 was signed into law, Google, Facebook, Twitter
and YouTube did not exist. Today they’re dominant tech giants.
Many argue that these private companies
have their own terms of service and are able to enforce them as they wish. That
they’re not covered under the first amendment. Yet these platforms are now the
new public square where it’s important that all voices and viewpoints are able
to be heard. With the immunities that these companies have and the importance
of dialogue on their platforms, arguably they are in effect state actors and
therefore first amendment protections should apply to user generated content.
The size and power of these companies also
contributes to their ability to censor speech and undermine the first amendment.
Google controls 87 percent of search, Facebook has 2.8 billion monthly active
users, 500 million tweets are sent on Twitter each day and over 1 billion hours
of videos are watched on YouTube every day.
When a company has monopoly power, it no
longer is constrained by normal market forces. If these platforms had
competitors, consumers could choose alternatives when they disagree with terms
of service or moderation policies. Right now the only choice consumers have is
to take it or leave it.
Section 230 appears to compound this
problem. Big tech has no competitors and is immune from liability. These
companies are unaccountable to their customers, the courts and the government.
If not for their monopoly power and Section 230 immunity, these companies might
not be involved in the actions and censorship we see today.
These platforms are where people
communicate online and there are no real alternatives. This innovation has
democratized our political system; yet there are people who don’t like that
every person is able to get their views out there and they want to interfere
with and censor that. We cannot stand for this cancel culture and the
interference with free speech.
Entrepreneurs want to challenge these big
tech companies. Unfortunately the system is rigged against the little guy
startup. These companies can remove your website from the internet, delete your
app from the app store or permanently ban you from their platform. They can
remove competitors or those they disagree with, largely with no recourse.
Millions of small business owners use tech
platforms to operate their business. Many have been censored, banned and
demonetized. This can be done without warning, no explanation and many times
without any meaningful due process.
Our antitrust regulators need to take a
harder look at the actions of Big Tech. I recently introduced legislation with
Senator Klobuchar to increase resources for FTC and DOJ antitrust enforcement.
This legislation would provide an immediate boost to their effective competition
Right now there are essentially five
companies within the United States that determine what can and cannot be viewed
by the American public. It’s becoming increasingly clear that these companies
are more beholden to cancel culture and not to the free speech principles that
this country was founded upon. As Justice Brandeis famously wrote, “If there be
time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the
evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech,
not enforced silence.”
It’s time that we examine the need for
Section 230 immunity and to what extent these tech companies are abusing their
monopoly power. It’s time that these companies stop arbitrarily deciding what
speech is acceptable for the country.