On Section 230

Okay, so believe it or not, this post is not about Twitter and Facebook and the other social media companies banning Trump.  Well, it is kinda about that, but only tangentially.

As part of the brouhaha coming from those bans, a lot of articles and stories have been mentioning Section 230.  Heck, Trump himself has ranted about it for months, telling his followers that it should be removed because it causes/leads-to censorship.


Like everything else Trump rants about, that is just stupid.  Let’s backtrack a bit and look at what Section 230 actually does before people decide to assault the Capitol over it.

Section 230 was put in place in the 90’s as a “liability shield” for internet companies.  Although it was enacted in the day of AOL and CompuServe, it is applicable now to far more than just internet providers.  It applies to any company or site that hosts “content” on the internet.

In essence, it says that the site provider cannot be held liable for content on its site if — and only if — they have legitimate content moderation policies in place, and a team to enforce those policies.

Put simply, this blog is hosted on WordPress’s platform.  There is a pretty detailed Terms of Service document to which I had to agree before I could get the blog up and running.  Part of that document spells out the content that is subject to moderation, and the methods WordPress can and will use to enforce that moderation.

If I put up a blog post advocating, say, something violent or repugnant, and one of my readers went out and actually did that, the victims of the crime could sue the shit out of me personally, because of what I wrote.  They could not, however, sue WordPress if WordPress could show that their content policies, and their moderation team, were dealing with the issue.

If, on the other hand, WordPress had no content policies, or no moderation team, then Section 230 would not apply and they could — and would — get sued for every single controversial thing posted on their platform.

Now, let’s apply that to Trump and Twitter.

If you feel that banning Trump from Twitter is unreasonable censorship, then you should NOT be calling for the removal of Section 230 and the protections it provides.  Without those liability protections, the justifiable fear of lawsuits would cause companies to massively restrict the content they would be willing to allow on their platforms.

Actually, if you are worried about Trump’s Twitter ban, you should be fighting to strengthen Section 230.

You can justifiably argue that Twitter and Facebook acted as they did out of politics, but you have to be reasonable here and look at the other side as well — what Trump incited on January 6th could very well have real legal consequences for any internet platform, Twitter in this case, that allowed his rantings without adequate enforcement of content and moderation policies.  Those consequences could be far, far worse if he were to continue to use the same language in an effort to again incite “activity” on January 20th.

Banning Trump can be described as politics, yes, but it can also be described as a common-sense, conservative business decision to protect the company from possible legal action.

Now, the ban may turn out to be the stupidest thing the social media companies could do.  The folks upset about it have a certain amount of right on their side.  But if they — if you — want the freedom to express and read all kinds of viewpoints and opinions on the internet, then the internet companies do need the liability protection of Section 230.  Take away that protection and you create the fear not of governmental or criminal reprisal for content, but the far worse (to any reasonable CEO or CFO) fear of economic and civil reprisal for content.

I am not, in this post, trying to argue for or against the social media ban on Donald J Trump.  I have my own opinion on that, just as you have yours.  As much as I despise Trump, I can most definitely see both sides to the argument.

No, what I’m writing about is the foolish argument about the wrong thing!

The argument, unfortunately, has become this: “the tech companies need Section 230, and we don’t like the tech companies, so take it away!”  That is the best example of cutting off your nose to spite your face that I have seen in a very long time, and it frustrates the living hell out of me.

If you folks on the Trump side — not conservatives, mind you…conservatives are something very different from nationalist-populists — want to pick a fight with the tech companies, do it over something that something that will actually benefit you and your side!

Oh, and one last note — this is NOT a question of censorship in any way, shape or form. True censorship is the use of governmental power to quell or limit free speech. as big as they have become, neither Facebook nor Twitter is the government. They are private companies who have every legal and legitimate right to do business with whomever they choose.

If you believe, for instance, that a cake baker should be allowed to refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding because of his personal and private religious beliefs, then you have no basis to argue that Twitter should be forced to do business with Donald Trump in spite of their beliefs and preferences otherwise.

If you don’t like the choices Facebook and Twitter, then don’t use them. Period. End of story. Welcome to the land of freedom and personal responsibility.

{Edit — okay, so I’ve had the question put to me already in a couple of texts. Just to put the issue to bed, and forestall more of the same question: I more-than despise Trump, I hold him in the utmost contempt…BUT I also think Twitter made a mistake with their total ban. I think Facebook did quite a bit better by suspending him only until after the inauguration. Also…I don’t use either platform. The only “social media” presence I have is this old-school little blog, so the whole argument is less visceral and more intellectual for me.}

What I Couldn’t Manage Yesterday

Apologies for the terse post yesterday.  I had more to say — a great deal more — but I was far too angry and upset to even begin to untangle my thoughts and words from the emotions.  I am still angry and upset as I type this, but with a night’s sleep and a pot of coffee, I am at least going to try…

All of the articles and TV pieces are using one key word to describe the assault on the United States Capitol: sedition.  It is all-too true that the actions of Trump and his mob yesterday fit every single aspect of that crime, but it is not the right word for what went down.

No, to offer the right word, I want to first provide its technical definition under United States Federal law:

“the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R.)

THAT is the definition of what Trump and his thugs did yesterday: terrorism.

Trump’s supporters, then, accomplished what Osama bin Laden could only dream of — they put a terrorist in the Oval Office.  Congratulations.

To my friends and family who served in uniform who still support Trump, I want to offer this reminder:

“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” 

How can you square that particular oath — given on your honor to support and defend the Constitution of the United States — with acts of terrorism against the United States Congress?  Those who served in the sandbox and rockpile sacrificed incredible amounts of blood, sweat and tears against al’Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS.

In spite of those efforts, in spite of those sacrifices, we still have terrorism here at home.  Sadly, we have that terrorism not from the blood-soaked shores of the Middle East, but from the sociopathic, narcissistic mind of one man: Donald John Trump.  Make your choice, and make it now…you either honor your oath, and the sacrifice and blood of your compatriots — as well as your fathers and grandfathers — to support and defend the Constitution, or you forever make mockery of all that this nation has suffered to be the only democracy* with centuries of peaceful transfer of power.

*Yes, yes, I know…we’re a representative republic, not a “true” democracy — let’s just skip the pointless pedantry, okay?

Why am I writing this, I ask myself, when so many others are doing so in venues much larger than my little blog?  I’m doing so because I have to go on record.  If I do not record my disgust at the events of yesterday, I am complicit through my silence.

Look, I’ve said before that those who want artists (and athletes, and countless others) to just “shut up and sing/act/write/play” are not just foolish, they are in denial of what art truly is.  Art is agency…the agency to take a stand; the agency to praise, and to condemn; the agency to foment change through expression.  Art is, at the core of it, the voice with which you can — you must — express yourself not just on the internal, quiet things, but also on the loudest and most external of things.

Trump — I will not bestow the honor of the title of President on the “man” who not only besmirched the office for four years, but yesterday outright betrayed it — needs to be removed from office, and he needs to removed immediately.  I know that it is, from one perspective, pointless to use either the 25th Amendment or impeachment to remove him with only two weeks left.  But from the greater perspective, there are two reasons:

  1. He is insane.  Plain and simple, his complete mental breakdown makes him by definition unfit for office.  It is foolish in the extreme to risk the kind of damage a madman in the Oval office could do over the next two weeks.
  2. The symbolism matters.  If you advocate for, and outright incite, terrorism against the United States, you don’t get to be President.  Period.  Even if the process takes until five minutes before Joe Biden takes the oath of office, it is vital to our future stability that Trump be recorded as the first — and hopefully only — President to ever be forcibly removed from office.

The words of John Kelly matter, here.  I think his thoughts absolutely nail what the rest of us — those not so lost to thought, morality and maturity that we avoid belonging to a lunatic’s cult, anyway — when he said this morning:

“We need to look infinitely harder at who we elect to any office in our land. At the office seeker’s character, at their morals, at their ethical record, their integrity, their honesty, their flaws, what they have said about women and minorities, why they are asking office in the first place, and only then consider the policies they espouse.”

The emotional, visceral part of me wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  “The Republicans should never hold office again!” I, the ex-Republican, want to rage.  “No vote for an R ever again!”

But then I think about it…

Look, as bad as things have been since the election — and as fundamentally insane as they got yesterday — there still were Republicans who stood up when it mattered.  The least of those is Mike Pence.  He was an avid, outright, aggressive enabler of Trump’s insanity, but when it came down the final step, it was a step too far.  Pence, in the end, did the right thing.  He is no hero — you are not a hero for doing the right thing only under the utmost duress — but still he deserves a nod.

But then you have R’s like Sasse and Kinzinger and Romney.  They spoke their consciences throughout the entire four years of Trump’s insanity.  In spite of the prices that Trump and his enablers tried to exact, both personal and political, they stood up for what they believed.  They have earned more than a nod, they have earned respect.

Oh, and to my former home of Maine, I have to give my thanks.  You knew better than the rest of the country when you re-elected Susan Collins.  And to Senator Collins herself, I offer my applause.  She has stood up as well, and earned both the respect she deserves, and the influence she will exert for the next several years.

But the true hero of this not-so-little Shakespearean tragedy?  Raffensperger.  That man put up not just with Trump’s insane attacks, but also literal threats to his life and the lives of his family.  And he never wavered.  He hated the results — he wanted the R’s to win — but throughout the entire thing he did what was right.  He stood up for his oath, for his office, and for his state.  In the end, Brad Raffensperger stood up for the entire country.  He is the person who takes the inner rage I talked about and shows it for the foolishness that it truly is.  Were he to ever run for national office, I would have to give him very, very serious consideration.  Cheers, then, Mr. Raffesnperger, and I will give you the highest of compliments: in the decades to come, your children and grandchildren will be proud of you.

And the children and grandchildren of the villains of this whole thing?  The children of Hawley and Cruz and the antagonist himself, Donald John Trump?  Shame and embarrassment, and an acknowledgment that the sins of today still matter in the coming years and decades.

Musical Note — this was actually a hard one. There are a lot of songs I could use, and finding the right one was proving to be impossible. Then I went back and re-read Trump’s words from yesterday, and watched again the violence that he so wanted, and the song picked itself: