If you were in a coma for the past 12 months, just came out of it, and had to figure out what had happened in the last year or so solely based on new bills introduced in Congress, you would likely come to the conclusion that Section 230 was the world's greatest priority and the biggest, most pressing issue in the entire freaking universe. I've completely lost track of how many new bills have been introduced this year -- in the midst of a pandemic -- that try to undermine and destroy the open internet enabled by Section 230 of the CDA. It's absolutely ridiculous.
Last week we had Lindsey Graham and his garbage Online Content Policy Modernization Act. Josh Hawley, the lying demagogue, has probably introduced half a dozen bills aimed at undermining Section 230, including one a few weeks ago. On Tuesday of this week we had Senators Manchin and Cornyn introduce their despicable and dangerous See Something, Say Something Act.
And then, on Wednesday, we got two more truly awful anti-230 bills. What's going on over there on Capitol Hill? If you introduce 12 bills to destroy the internet do you get a 13th one free?
First up, we had Reps. Sylvia Garcia and Ann Wagner introduce the House companion to the Senate's EARN IT Act. We've spent months detailing how this bill is a two-fer: it's dangerous for both encryption and Section 230. And yet, it now has bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House. Garcia seems so proud of being a part of this nonsense that she didn't put the press release on her own website (though she did have time to put up a press release for a bill to rename a post office).
Ann Wagner, you may recall, is the force behind the previous disastrous anti-230 bill, FOSTA, who has spent the years since passing that bill just flat out lying about what the bill did. She claims it's been a huge success, and yet it has yet to be used successfully, has been shown to put women's lives in danger, and has made it more difficult for law enforcement to find actual sex traffickers.
But, not surprisingly, Wagner is touting her "success" with that terrible legislation in introducing this new garbage:
“I’m proud to join with my colleague Rep. Sylvia Garcia in introducing the EARN IT Act, critical legislation that will hold accountable bad actors that facilitate child sexual abuse material,” said Congresswoman Wagner. "This bill is the natural follow-up to FOSTA, my Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which amended section 230 to hold accountable websites that facilitate sex trafficking. As I have said many times, I believe that if exploitation is a crime offline, it should also be a crime online, and I’m delighted to continue working with survivors, advocates, law enforcement, and industry to protect children from online sexual exploitation.”
Yes, she keeps saying that "if it's a crime offline, it should be a crime online" and it always has been. This bill, like her last bill, changed literally nothing about what was a "crime." What it did was blame service providers for non-crimes, and made them less willing to host perfectly legal content. And, again, her bill has harmed survivors and made it more difficult for law enforcement, meaning it has done the opposite of protecting children from online sexual exploitation.
And the EARN IT Act, as we've discussed, will again make things worse. This version of EARN IT is even worse than the Senate version, which included a narrow (and most likely useless) attempt to say that it couldn't be used to ban encryption. This version of the bill narrows that limitation, meaning encryption would be even more at risk.
And that was for the horrific bill we already knew about.
Next up to the plate is Senator John Kennedy with the ridiculously named Don't Push My Buttons Act. As you may have guessed, it's pushed all of my buttons for wasting my time in needing to respond to absolute wingnut batshittery in the form of you-can't-actually-be-serious legislation. There have been so many dumb anti-230 bills that it's hard to rank which one's worse than the next, but this one is... just bad. Basically, this would take Section 230 away from any site that tracks any information on its users, or presents an algorithmically generated feed for its users. But, it would not apply if the users of those sites "knowingly and intentionally elect to receive" the algorithmically generated feed. And so sites that want to do that will just put it in their terms of service and make people agree to it and... what good does that do for anyone?
And what does this even have to do with Section 230 anyway? If you don't like algorithmically generated feeds, it would seem that (1) you're going to have a 1st Amendment issue to overcome at some point and (2) there are other tools in the toolbox and (3) it's totally unrelated to the questions about Section 230. This is just "old man yells at cloud... and writes weird legislation."
Kennedy is trying to get this bill attached as an amendment to Graham's wacky bill that's about to be marked up, and it's just open season for crazy ideas on an issue that should not be a priority at this moment when people are literally dying by the thousands every damn day due to a pandemic that Congress seems to have decided to ignore.
Does this shit ever end?