The Senate floor saw a reprise of some online political theater Thursday (Oct. 1), both in the sense that it was streamed and in the subject matter at issue.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) took to the floor to seek unanimous consent (UC) to pass legislation that would reform the Sec. 230 immunity that social media and other websites have from civil liability over their moderation of third-party content.
Republicans, led by the leader of their party, President Trump, argue the immunity has allowed the Twitters and Facebooks of the world to censor conservative political speech and they want to put a stop to it.
Kennedy said that social media was an American invention with many virtues and advantages, including bringing the world closer and giving people a voice and accumulating a vast amount of knowledge. But there was a "but."
He said that it has a downside, one of which was that it had become an "endless electronic brawl" thanks to that Sec. 230 immunity, which allows social media site algorithms to promote content to "push our buttons" without repercussion.
He called for a vote on his Don't Push My Buttons Act, which he said was simple. It said that if a social media platform uses algorithms based on the information they have collected about its users to push their hot buttons by continuously showing information that reaffirms their point of view without showing other points of view, that is "fine" and "legal," but that will no longer enjoy Sec. 230 liability.
As was the case with the last Sec. 230 reform bill for which UC was sought, Sen. Ron Wyden (R-Ore.), author of Sec. 230, rose to oppose. A single "no" kills the UC, which is a fast track vote.
Wyden said he guessed only a small circle of Beltway insiders had seen the bill, the passage of which "would make a mockery of the proposition of open public debate on significant laws." He said the bill leaves more questions than answers, including who would be targeted by the bill.
He said for reasons too numerous to mention, he objected.
It was only last week that Sen. Josh Hawley sought a UC on his own Sec. 230 bill, leading to Wyden's opposition.
In both the case of Hawley and Kennedy, the effort was to make a point rather than gain passage since there was no way such bills would draw no opposition from Democrats.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.