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Siccing Instant Karma on the G-Men

Most tech-positive conservatives have long supported Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which “provides immunity to online platforms from civil liability based on third-party content and for the removal of content in certain circumstances.”

Most of us believe the underlying principle — platforms are not publishers, and therefore not liable for, say, libel — has been fundamental both to the economics of the internet, and to the rise of alternative publishing outlets for conservatives long shut out from the liberal media.

Section 230 is even the reason we were able to stop calling it “the liberal media” and rename it the “mainstream media.” Prior to Section 230 no one said “mainstream media” because it was all just, you know, the media and almost all of it liberal.

For this reason, we have defended Section 230 staunchly.

And that is being used against us big time.

At first, it looked like what was happening was that the platforms — Facebook, Twitter, and the rest — were sneakily behaving like publishers by vetoing conservative contributions.

They got away with this, we supposed, because of government inaction. Whomever was responsible for enforcing Section 230 just wasn’t allowing the platforms the power of publishers without yielding the protections of platforms.

Then we learned it was much worse than that.

The government, as our favorite journalist Matt Taibbi and his colleagues at Racket News have documented, wasn’t doing nothing. It was actively pressuring the platforms to exercise the power of publishers against dissenters from government policy.

Probably it should have been obvious that what appeared to be mere laziness was actually a power grab.

Just as it should be obvious that Section 230, tucked away in the government’s back pocket — though these days more often showcased in the G-men’s showy shoulder holsters — gave the government fearsome leverage over the “platforms.” The Gees could declare the platforms to be publishers and effectively put them out of business.

In a wonderfully totalitarian paradox, in order to retain their section 230 protections as platforms, the platforms would have to act as publishers and go merrily-a-censoring whenever the government dictated.

Meanwhile, there is a whole other very real problem.

Platforms are mean streets. Or maybe mean playgrounds

Children are the cruelest of all humans because in their world cruelty is rewarded. Famously, the meanest kids are the most popular. The “baddest” kids on the playground make the rules and get the respect.

Adults are far more polite because they have learned that what goes around comes around.

On the vicious adult playground of an anonymous platform, that’s no longer true.

To fix both problems, we have a two birds/one stone suggestion.

How about modifying Section 230 so you are a publisher only if you carry anonymous content but remain a platform if you don’t.

The point being that someone’s got to be available to suffer the consequences of bad behavior.

To protect us all, instant Karma’s got to be able to get someone.

How public would platform players have to be? In a sane world, very public: name, full address, and email.

We haven’t been in a sane world for a while. Fears of physical retribution against people so easy to find would be all too justified.

Early in our careers, both of us were charged with editing old-fashioned letters to the editor sections for print publications.

The custom in those day was First Name; Last Name; Town and State. Enough cover to be safe, but enough taking responsibility so that Karma was appeased. No angry crowds showing up at your front door.

This is so simple and sweet a solution it almost embarrasses us. It comes awfully close to “why can’t we all just get along?”

So why can’t we?

Okay, we see a few hands up in the audience. Are you wondering how our plan for politeness curbs the G-Men?

Not perfectly. Nothing ever does anything perfectly, and if it does, it’s usually a bad idea.

What this system would do is somewhat reduce the value of the Section 230 shield. The shield would now come at a cost. Platforms forbidding anonymity  — or requiring it  — might lose market share. With platform protection somewhat devalued, the G-Men’s threat to take it away would lose some power.

This is such a good idea, we wish we’d thought of it.

What’s that you say?

We did think of it?

Well for goodness sake, don’t tell anyone!!!!! We really want to stay anonymous.

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