Ted Cruz Demands A Return Of The Fairness Doctrine, Which He Has Mocked In The Past, Due To Misunderstanding CDA 230

Remember the Fairness Doctrine? It was an incredibly silly policy of the FCC from 1949 to 1987 requiring some form of "equal time" to "the other side" of controversial matters of public interest. It's a dumb idea because most issues have a lot more than two sides, and simply pitting two arguments against one another tends to do little to elucidate actual truth -- but does tend to get people to dig in more. However, despite the fact that the fairness doctrine was killed more than 30 years ago, Republicans* regularly claim that it's about to be brought back.

* Our general policy is not to focus on political parties, unless it's a necessary part of the story, and in this case it is. If you look at people freaking out about the supposed return of the fairness doctrine (which is not returning) it is always coming from Republicans, stirring up their base and claiming that Democrats are trying to bring back the fairness doctrine to silence the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys of the world.

But that's why it's so bizarre that Ted Cruz has taken to the pages of Fox News... to incorrectly claim that the fairness doctrine applies to the internet based on his own tortured (i.e. dead wrong) reading of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. We already discussed how wrong Cruz was about CDA 230 in his questions to Mark Zuckerberg (while simultaneously noting how ridiculous Zuck's responses were).

In his Fox News op-ed, Cruz argues that if a platform is "non-neutral" it somehow loses CDA 230 protections:

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) states: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

This is a good provision. It means that, for example, if you run a blogging platform and someone posts a terrorist threat in the comments section, you’re not treated as the person making the threat. Without Section 230, many social media networks could be functionally unable to operate.

In order to be protected by Section 230, companies like Facebook should be “neutral public forums.” On the flip side, they should be considered to be a “publisher or speaker” of user content if they pick and choose what gets published or spoken.

This is Cruz only reading Section (c)(1) of CDA 230, and totally ignoring the part right after it that says:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected

There's plenty of case law that has made it clear that moderating content on your platform doesn't make you liable under CDA 230. The very point of this section was to encourage exactly this kind of moderation. Indeed, this part of the CDA was added directly in response to the infamous Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy case, where Prodigy was found liable for certain posts in part because it moderated other messages.

Now, you could claim that Cruz is not misreading the law -- but rather he's advocating a return to the days of that Stratton Oakmont ruling being law. After all he says "Facebook should be 'neutral public forums.'" But, that's both an impossible standard (what the hell is "neutral" in this context anyway?) and basically calling for a return to the fairness doctrone.

Republicans, who have spent years freaking out about the fairness doctrine should be really pissed off at Cruz for basically demanding not just a return of the fairness doctrine, but demanding it for all online platforms and setting it at an impossible standard.

And, of course, this is the same Cruz who has railed against the fairness doctrine itself in the past.

"You know, the Obama FCC has invoked the Fairness Doctrine a number of times with sort of wistful glances to the past. Nostalgia," he said. "You know if I had suggested years ago that the Obama administration would send government observers into the newsrooms of major media organizations, that claim would have been ridiculed. And yet that is exactly what the FCC did."

Amusingly, this was right after he railed against the Obama FCC for pushing for net neutrality.

So... to sum up Ted Cruz's views on the internet, net neutrality is evil and attack on free speech, but platform "neutrality" is necessary. How does that work? Oh, and the fairness doctrine is censorship, but Facebook needs to engage in a form of the fairness doctrine or face stifling civil liability.

It's almost as if Ted Cruz has no idea what the fuck he's talking about concerning internet regulations, free speech, neutrality and fairness -- but does know that if he hits on certain buzzwords, he's sure to fire up his base.

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