Facebook has taken some free speech stances that drew heavy criticism from fellow Big Tech companies, liberal commentators, and now the Democratic primary frontrunner.
Former Vice President Joe Biden told The New York Times editorial board “that Section 230 should be revoked, immediately” for Big Tech companies. The Times called that provision “pretty foundational” to the internet.
Biden spoke with The Times editorial board as it tried to determine which candidate to endorse as an organization. In the 80-minute discussion, Biden hammered Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and threatened to repeal the legislation that was intended to protect free speech on the internet.
This has been part of a liberal crusade against the platform after it and its founder Mark Zuckerberg took multiple stands for free speech. This included allowing political campaign ads to go unvetted by fact-checkers and allowing Breitbart to be included in the platform’s “News” tab.
Zuckerberg defended his free speech stance on political campaign ads during a CBS This Morning interview: “What I believe is that, in a democracy, it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgments.”
Times opinion writer Charlie Warzel asked Biden about his dispute with Facebook:
[I]n October, your campaign sent a letter to Facebook regarding an ad that falsely claimed that you blackmailed Ukrainian officials to not investigate your son. I’m curious, did that experience, dealing with Facebook and their power, did that change the way that you see the power of tech platforms right now?
Biden responded, “No, I’ve never been a fan of Facebook, as you probably know. I’ve never been a big Zuckerberg fan. I think he’s a real problem.”
He then expressed his belief that the free speech protections that make social media serve as a public square for debate should be stripped.
“The idea that it’s a tech company is that Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one,” stated Biden. “For Zuckerberg and other platforms.”
In short, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects Big Tech platforms from legal liability from illegal activity which occurs on their websites. The purpose of this was to ensure that they serve as online arenas for public debate. If they don’t behave as platforms for open debate, then they risk being stripped of this protection.
Even The Times’ Warzel balked at Biden’s comments on Section 230, saying, “That’s a pretty foundational laws of the modern internet.”
Biden, however, did not back down on his criticism of Section 230:
That’s right. Exactly right. And it should be revoked. It should be revoked because it is not merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false, and we should be setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy. You guys still have editors. I’m sitting with them. Not a joke. There is no editorial impact at all on Facebook. None. None whatsoever. It’s irresponsible. It’s totally irresponsible.
Furthermore, Biden suggested that Zuckerberg should have to pay legal consequences for his platform: “He should be submitted to civil liability and his company to civil liability, just like you would be here at The New York Times.”
He mitigated that by saying, “Whether he engaged in something and amounted to collusion that in fact caused harm that would in fact be equal to a criminal offense, that’s a different issue.” Though he did muse, “That’s possible. That’s possible it could happen.”