Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri arrived on Capitol Hill in January with energy, ambition and what seemed like a sober outlook on the abuses that conservatives have suffered at the hands of left-leaning internet giants.
He spoke out against the flaws in the Communications Decency Act, namely section 230, that have allowed for the targeted censorship that has seen many high profile personalities on the right (Alex Jones, Steven Crowder, Laura Loomer and Conservative Street Artist Sabo to name just a few) face an uphill battle to disseminate their political message.
He then introduced the “Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act,” a bill that sought to remove the immunity big tech companies have received under Section 230 unless they are willing to submit to an external audit that proves their algorithms and content removal practices are politically neutral.
At the time that the bill was introduced, Hawley stated, “There’s a growing list of evidence that shows big tech companies making editorial decisions to censor viewpoints they disagree with.
Even worse, the entire process is shrouded in secrecy because these companies refuse to make their protocols public. This legislation simply states that if the tech giants want to keep their government-granted immunity, they must bring transparency and accountability to their editorial processes and prove that they don’t discriminate.”
Sounds great doesn’t it?
And even more to the point, when asked why the government should favor the current guard of tech giants over conventional media outlets that don’t receive protection from civil suits by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in December of 2018, as a then Senator-Elect, Hawley said, “Let’s be honest, these tech companies Facebook, Google, Twitter, they have gotten huge, they have gotten powerful, they have gotten rich on the backs of this special immunity that they get from the federal government. On the back of what they call Section 230, and I think it’s time we asked some hard questions. They’re monopolies now, they’re very powerful and they appear to be using their power to shut down political viewpoints that they don’t agree with, usually conservative.”
Generally, most conservatives would be opposed to more regulation, but a change to an obviously flawed or misinterpreted law like CDA 230 would generally be entirely acceptable to most on the right. That is a positive for Hawley.
The goodwill he may have begun to build with many on the right may have taken a major hit, however, with the recent announcement of a new bill he is championing called the “Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act — or the SMART Act.
This new piece of legislation again takes on the social media monopolists by curbing what Hawley calls “social media addiction.”
Specifically, it seeks to outlaw popular features like infinite scroll and autoplay on social media apps and websites and it would automatically limit a user’s time on a platform to 30 minutes a day. That would be detrimental to many businesses who rely on social media as a way to communicate with the public and build their customer base.
It also represents another attempt by “big government” to tell us how we should be “living our best life” in their opinion. Hawley has made no secret of his disdain for social media.
In May of this year, he wrote a column in USA Today that was interpreted as a direct attack against Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. “But maybe social media’s innovations do our country more harm than good. Maybe social media is best understood as a parasite on productive investment, on meaningful relationships, on a healthy society. Maybe we’d be better off if Facebook disappeared,” he wrote.
Many of the points young Hawley has brought up regarding abuses by partisan tech giants are correct and valid and are worthy of further examination.
On the flip side, telling Americans how much time can be spent enjoying their favorite medium of expression is an example of heavy-handed, unnecessary governance and potentially even worse — a violation of their First Amendment rights.
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