Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is blasting what he calls “dominant tech giants” like Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for squelching free speech.
Grassley, a Republican, says these powerhouse platforms are now “the new public square,” where he says it’s important that all voices and viewpoints are able to be heard.
“I’m so irritated because of the censoring and the violation of free speech,” Grassley says, “that I’m going to join almost any effort that will make sure that these platforms allow more free speech and less censoring.”
It has been 25 years since Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was signed into law, which grants wide-sweeping immunity to interactive computer services that host third-party content. Back then, Grassley says the internet was in its infancy and the goal of the act was “laudable.”
In a conference call with Iowa reporters today, Grassley says the tables have turned dramatically and it’s not clear how Congress should respond.
“There’s a few on the right that think we should just leave things alone,” Grassley says, “that this immunity from lawsuits by these platforms is the right thing to keep if we’re going to have strong social media platforms.”
Others argue that the private companies have their own terms of service and are able to enforce them as they wish and they’re not covered under the First Amendment. With the immunities these companies have and the importance of dialogue on their platforms, Grassley says they’re arguably “state actors” and First Amendment protections should apply to user-generated content.
“Even if I had to repeal this Section 230 immunity, I would do that,” Grassley says. “I don’t know whether I’m going to get that opportunity, but you know where I’m coming from, I’m really irritated.”
In a floor speech on Monday, Grassley said Section 230 was enacted to encourage free speech while giving companies the ability to remove illegal or obscene materials. Today, however, he says those interactive computer services are among the largest corporations in the world. Grassley says the size and power of these companies contributes to their ability to censor speech and “undermine” the First Amendment.
He says Google controls 87% of searches, Facebook has 2.8 billion monthly active users, 500 million tweets are sent on Twitter each day and over 1 billion hours of videos are watched daily on YouTube.
Grassley says, “When a company has monopoly power, it no longer is constrained by normal market forces.”