The Trump administration talks a lot about freedom of speech but is taking action on multiple fronts that would undercut the Internet as we know it and change the legal protections that companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter have. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says it’s going to be interpreting Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which provides legal liability protection to social media companies. And the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against Google, accusing the company of holding illegal monopolies in search and search advertising.
The DOJ confuses monopoly with popularity in its anti-trust case against Google. Consumers and companies choose to make Google their default search engine because it is easy to use and is a high-quality service, not because they are forced to. Anyone can use other search engines. To claim Google has a monopoly assumes Americans do not know how to perform a basic internet skill — changing their search engines.
Google’s reply to the lawsuit shows it has more faith in Americans than the DOJ does. Google explains how easy it is to change search engines on its own Google Chrome browser to something other than Google, just as it is on every other browser a consumer uses. On Google Chrome, a user simply has to click settings and then the contents bar, where there is an explicit choice for “search engine” that gives you the option of using Google, Bing, Yahoo!, DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, and the option to manually input your own search engine choice if it is not listed. Google rightfully claims that if this DOJ lawsuit succeeds, it will artificially prop up low-quality search engines and ultimately restrict consumer freedoms to choose where and how they search online.
Additionally, the DOJ lawsuit presupposes that American consumers don’t understand how private companies function. When you shop for a car you don’t expect your local Ford dealership to have the new Chevrolets on display. Therefore, it is unsurprising that Google searches often prioritize products that benefit Google. Google is not hiding this fact and even lays it out blatantly in its reply to the DOJ lawsuit. Consumers choose who they support and know private companies use marketing to gain revenue. The DOJ’s effort to further regulate Google’s business practices would be unjust and would go against every right a private company has to advertise their business in America.
Google and other companies have grown and become popular, in part, because of the environment that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 fosters. Under Section 230, companies that allow third parties to use their platforms are immune from liability for most content published on their sites, and companies are free to moderate the content. This allows companies to develop their businesses and products without facing constant lawsuits for third-party content that may be deemed inappropriate by others. Section 230 grants freedoms to companies so they can create their own policy strategies and ultimately decide what they will and won’t allow on their platforms.
Recently, politicians from both sides of the political aisle have deemed Section 230 as an issue of concern for different reasons. While the left typically criticizes so-called Big Tech for not censoring hate speech or blocking election interference and misinformation, the right constantly complains that big tech is unfairly censoring conservative pundits, publications, and rhetoric.
If the DOJ and FCC actions force social media companies to regulate more speech or take legal responsibility for all of the words by third parties on their platforms, there will be more censorship of all sides, not less. If someone else’s words on a social media platform could lead to lawsuits, the easiest thing for Twitter or Facebook to do is to censor, i.e. ban, those posts. If it lost Section 230’s protections, for example, Google might decide its wisest action is to block every allegedly questionable or unsavory website from showing up at all in Google’s search results.
These companies should continue to be free to regulate their content as they see fit. Some companies have chosen to take a harsher stance against content removal, despite having liability protections from Section 230. They do this because they see it as being in-sync with their business policies. If companies refuse to remove content that large numbers of its consumers don’t like, they risk losing those consumers. Thus, extra regulations are unnecessary partly because of the existing consumer pressures already put on these companies.
At the end of the day, the government’s actions against these companies are mistaken. The anti-trust suit and forcing regulations on the tech industry could take away services consumers already choose to use and could force customers to replace them with lower-quality options. There are a multitude of search engines and social platforms to choose from. If one isn’t to your taste, then try a different one. But just because a tech or social media company is big and successful doesn’t mean it is a danger to society.
A version of this column originally appeared on DailyCaller.com.