Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Senator Ted Cruz speaks at the George H.W. Bush Commemorative Center in Midland, Texas for a campaign stop Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. Cruz is on his bus tour campaigning before the mid-term elections. (Mark Rogers/Odessa American via AP)

This is an interesting story given the implications to sites like RedState and conservatives in general.

As you are probably aware, there’s been an ongoing battle between conservative news and content creators and the big tech companies, who have slyly changed their rules and managed to demonetize (or outright ban) several outlets. Along the way, there’s been a growing tension between conservative beliefs about private companies and wanting to see the first amendment not be subverted via technicality. If a private company can stifle rights, are you really any better off that if government did it? Should you feel good about it just because a private company did it? I’d posit not, although there are certainly different ways of handling each situation to ensure a respect of the Constitution.

In regards to new trade deals we’ve been negotiating, such as those with Mexico, Japan, and the UK, big tech has managed to garner many of the same Section 230 carve outs internationally that they currently enjoy domestically. Sen. Ted Cruz thinks that’s a problem per Politico.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today urged the Trump administration to remove language enshrining tech’s sweeping liability protections in trade pacts with Canada and Mexico as well as Japan, according to a letter obtained by POLITICO. 

In a missive to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Cruz also warned against adopting such language, which mirrors Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — a U.S. law shielding websites from lawsuits over users’ posts — in future trade deals.

“With members of both the Senate and House of Representatives seriously considering whether to amend or eliminate Section 230’s grant of immunity because big tech is not living up to its end of the legislative bargain, I believe that enshrining it in our trade agreements would be a mistake,” Cruz wrote.

I see his concern. If the point is to reform Section 230, not to insert the government in content decisions, but to simply incentivize neutrality instead of viewpoint discrimination (and I maintain those are distinctly different approaches), then the last thing you’d want is those same rules being enshrined in new trade deals. That could throw up major hurdles going forward to getting some of these rules changed. There’s also the issue of rampant intellectual property theft going on abroad as we enter into these new deals. This is especially concerning with Asian countries, who have a long history of such behavior. Should big tech companies be immune as platforms that peddle that stuff?

Again, I understand the tension here. I don’t want the federal government telling Facebook what they can and can’t publish. At the same time, I don’t think they should enjoy protections for copyright violations and political gamesmanship if they aren’t going to operate as an open platform. It’s a very fine line, but we are facing new challenges that simply weren’t a concern even 20 years ago. Section 230 was never meant to apply to curated social media platforms. That’s just a fact. The idea was that telephone companies could not be sued for things said over their lines. That seems perfectly reasonable as long as those companies don’t start picking and choosing what can be said in the first place. The same should apply to social media.

While some conservatives claim that the Cruz position on this is pro-big government, I don’t see that at all. It’s perfectly possible to say to these companies that the government is not going to touch them over content decisions but that they also don’t get immunity from private lawsuits if they chose to operate as a publisher like any other website. There’s nothing big government about that. In fact, the lack of immunity and special carve outs would be a small government response to the situation.

Given the two sides of this issue, I tend to fall in the middle and I believe Ted Cruz does as well. Even though this isn’t as exciting of an issue as others, it’s still important to take note of. We need to know what’s in these deals and whether they can negatively affect us.

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