Straight Talk About Section 230

Donald Trump and some of his conservative allies want to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. They say they want to do this because they are concerned that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter censor conservative voices. Their actions would achieve the opposite of their stated aims. They know this. Let’s take a closer look:

Under traditional defamation law, someone who publishes or repeats defamatory material is just as liable for defamation as the one with whom the defamation originated. So if I decide to get back at X by telling the New York Times that X is a pedophile, and the Times prints that story, the Times is just as liable to X as I am for defamation.

In the early days of social media, plaintiffs who felt they had been defamed tried to use this legal theory against Facebook and Twitter. By allowing people to post defamatory material, plaintiffs claimed, Facebook and Twitter had published the material to the world, and thus were just as liable as the individual who posted it.

In response, social media companies appealed to Congress. “We can’t operate if everyone can sue us for anything anyone publishes on our platforms,” they said. “We’ll go out of business.” Congress passed Section 230, which says, in effect, that social media companies are not publishers of other people’s posts for purposes of defamation law. Problem solved.

Now ask yourself what would happen if Facebook and Twitter could be sued for everything people post. Assuming they could stay in business at all, would those companies censor people less, or more? Duh. They would censor everything in sight in order to avoid liability. Any content that might be remotely controversial would be banned.

Why, then, would Trump think repeal of section 230 would lead to less censorship of conservative voices? Answer: he doesn’t. He doesn’t care about that. He’s lying when he says he does.

Donald Trump has always used litigation, and the threat of litigation, to bludgeon his critics and business adversaries. He wants to repeal Section 230 not to protect conservative voices, but to silence liberal voices. He wants to sue Facebook and Twitter (especially Twitter) for every post and tweet critical of him. He is counting, as he always does, on his superior capacity for obstreperous conduct to give him an advantage over normal human beings who do not feed on revenge and destruction, as he does.

If Section 230 is repealed, Trump will spend the rest of his life suing Facebook and Twitter for every perceived slight and imagined grievance he can attribute to any user anywhere. He’ll lose a lot more than he’ll win, but that won’t matter. His self-pity is infinite. His persecution complex is boundless. It will never end.