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ANALYSIS: Democrats Are Clearing The Way For A Major Social Media Crackdown

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Dylan Housman Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
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Democrats look poised to beat Republicans to the punch on regulating Big Tech, despite years of complaints from the conservative base about social media censorship.

Former President Donald Trump railed against the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey during his four-year stint in the Oval Office, but GOP lawmakers failed to take action in any meaningful way to respond to the concerns of their voters about Big Tech platforms’ aggressive use of power. Now, Democrats are seizing the opportunity to enforce the biggest social media crackdown yet, and they’re threatening to use many of the same tools Republicans have been eyeing for years.

Some Republicans have taken action, particularly at the state level. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an anti-Big Tech bill into law aimed at protecting speech rights on the internet for residents of Florida, and the Texas legislature passed a similar bill designed to foster free speech.

Republican Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan put forth a proposal to make it easier to break up Big Tech companies over antitrust issues, and Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley has been a leading voice on the right calling for reforms to social media companies to hold them accountable for censorship.

Still, conservatives have done more talking than legislating on the issue. Trump is still banned from Twitter and Facebook, conservative social media sites are still floundering and overall, censorship from Big Tech seems to be getting more aggressive, not less. (RELATED: Conservatives Need To Stop Making One Critical Mistake Fighting Big Tech)

There’s long been speculation that regulating Big Tech may be an area where rare bipartisan cooperation could happen in Congress. Republicans are frustrated with Zuckerberg, Dorsey and others, and Democrats are interested in breaking up mega-corporations like Amazon and Google.

The problem comes when the free speech issue arises. While each side of the aisle agrees that Big Tech companies are too powerful, and something should be done to either break them up or make them more accountable, the diagnoses by Republicans and Democrats strays far apart when speech comes to the fore.

Republicans complain that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter censor their voices and prevent them from spreading certain messages. This could be seen most recently with topics like the lab-leak theory, which went from being banned online to a mainstream idea in the matter of weeks. (RELATED: How The Pelosis Are Using Big Tech To Get Rich)

Meanwhile, Democrats want there to be more censorship online. According to President Joe Biden and members of his administration, there’s a pandemic of misinformation killing Americans that Facebook and Twitter need to step in and put an end to.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki admitted that the White House is working with social media platforms to advise them on what kind of content is harmful and needs to be stopped from spreading. YouTube has said it removes content based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

Big Tech companies are private businesses, but the prospect of working with the government to decide which alleged disinformation gets moderated raises first amendment questions. Conservatives have called for government intervention to protect speech. Progressives are now doing the opposite.

Interestingly, one of the most often-cited tools conservatives have proposed using to protect speech is now being discussed as a progressive tool to limit it. (RELATED: REPORT: The DNC Wants Phone Companies To Police Text Messages For Vaccine Misinformation)

Section 230 is a provision in federal law which protects technology platforms from liability for what goes on their site. Some conservatives have called for a repeal or reform to Section 230, arguing that platforms like Facebook and Twitter are acting as publishers, not platforms, by removing content they don’t like.

Section 230 has largely been left alone by the Democratic Party, but that changed this week. White House Communication Director Kate Bedingfield said Biden is open to the possibility of reviewing Section 230 protections for Big Tech in order to stop the spread of “bad information.”

Conservatives talked about Section 230 reform for years, but took no concrete actions to make it happen. Now that progressives are open to playing that card, it’s possible they will take Big Tech policy changes in the opposite direction — despite arriving to the issue later than Republicans.

The Biden administration has made clear that they view low vaccination rates, belief in conspiracy theories and election interference as products of poor regulation and moderation of Big Tech platforms. More and more of society’s ills are being blamed on Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s content moderation team, especially by Democratic politicians.

Now that they’re discussing Section 230, and the pressing issue of combating vaccine information is at the forefront of the Biden agenda, it’s clear that a crackdown on Big Tech from the left, not the right, may be coming sooner rather than later.