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Exclusive – Former FCC Bureau Chief Fred Campbell: Safe Harbor Enables Facebook, Google to Censor Without Accountability

FILE - In this April 18, 2017, file photo, conference workers speak in front of a demo booth at Facebook's annual F8 developer conference, in San Jose, Calif. One of the congressional committees investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has invited the tech giants Facebook, Twitter and the parent …
AP Photo/Noah Berger, File

Former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Wireless Bureau Chief Fred Campbell stated in an exclusive interview that the “Safe Harbor” protection for Facebook and Google allows social media giants to censor at will without any legal repercussions.

During the House Judiciary Committee hearing about Facebook, Google, and Twitter’s censorship practices on Thursday, TechFreedom President Berin Szoka argued that amending the Safe Harbor provision in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act would create a new “Fairness Doctrine” that would stifle rather than preserve free speech.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act says that “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.” In other words, Internet service providers (ISPs) and edge providers such as Facebook and Google can host or publish other users’ content without being legally liable for their users’ content. Campbell contends that Section 230 allows for Facebook, Google, and Twitter to censor without any legal ramifications.

Szoka said during the House Judiciary Committee hearing:

I often hear conservative groups complaining about the bias of social media platforms, but from what I can see after a decade in this field the real problem is that they just don’t use social media well. Let’s face it: the real people who use social media best and most eagerly are overwhelmingly left-wing.

The TechFreedom president explained how the original Fairness Doctrine stifled rather than expanded free speech. Szoka continued:

First enacted in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine was supposed to encourage robust hearing in broadcasting; instead, it did the opposite. Broadcasters avoided controversial topics that enforced bland orthodoxy on radio and television, entrenching, instead, what conservatives call the “mainstream media” and, instead, stifling alternative voices, such as talk radio.

“Instead of encouraging competition, a fairness doctrine for the Internet would actually entrench today’s tech giants,” Szoka added.

Campbell disputed Szoka’s argument, contending that Section 230 allows for Google and Facebook to censor at will.

He told Breitbart News, “Here’s the real problem with Section 230: it empowers these Internet platforms to censor content while removing any accountability for their publications. The Constitution has always protected an individual’s right to defend themselves against libel or slander.”

“Section 230 overrides the common law and says that these Internet platforms can censor all they want and won’t be accountable for anything — for libel or any other falsehoods,” Campbell added.

In an interview on Breitbart News Sunday, Campbell called for Section 230 to be repealed, stating that “conservatism itself is at stake,” thanks to Google and Facebook’s censorship.

Campbell suggested that “efforts to paint it as a revival of the Fairness Doctrine are false. I do not support [the Fairness Doctrine]. Most conservatives do not support it. I think it is a red herring.”

House Communications and Technology chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) called for re-examining some of the fundamental provisions contained in the Safe Harbor provision, given the rampant censorship of conservative voices on Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

Blackburn stated that free speech “is endangered even here in America.”

“Like social media platforms, broadcasters clearly are private entities with their own First Amendment rights, but even so, we recognize that some speech is so important that we must protect its access to an important platform,” Rep. Blackburn added.

Blackburn told the House Judiciary Committee:

But Section 230 of the Communications Act gives online platforms broad immunity from liability for user-generated content, except for a responsibility to take down certain things like child sex trafficking, theft of intellectual property, or terrorism. This should translate into more freedom, not less, for their users, but, instead, we are seeing more and more content censored by the new governors on some very flimsy pretenses. As such, perhaps it is time to review some of our fundamental assumptions.

Mike Wendy, president of MediaFreedom, told Breitbart News in an exclusive statement that Congress should re-examine Section 230 and that these social media giants continue to act like publishers, given their content curation.

Wendy told Breitbart News, “I think lawmakers need to take another look at Section 230, which was passed over 20 years ago. It and other aspects of the law create an ethos of willful blindness, a moral hazard of sorts, which allows companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter to pervert the Internet to their selfish, oftentimes partisan, ends. Now, I don’t have a problem with their bias; that’s their right. But, let’s be clear; they’re acting like classic publishers, which demands they be liable for the content and actions over their platforms. This must be better addressed.”

Campbell then suggested that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should require edge providers to disclose their practices on blocking, censoring, and shadow banning users on their platforms. The FCC chairman enacted a similar policy in the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” that requires ISPs to disclose their practices on blocking and throttling data prioritization for consumers and businesses.

“I think that would be a great modification of Section 230,” Campbell told Breitbart News. “Free-markets only work when there’s sufficient transparency and you know what the terms of the deal actually are, so the problem for a conservative is you often can’t tell whether conservative content is being blocked, and at times, it is very, very subtle. Google can just shift your search results to be on the third or fourth page. If you do not know this is happening, how can you make a marketplace decision to use another platform? Transparency is critical.”

Campbell concluded, “The argument would be if you want to block content as a platform, you can, but you need to be transparent about how you are doing it. Right now, they have no transparency requirements, and, as a matter of fact, they are not transparent about how their algorithms work. They zealously guard how they work.”

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