- - Thursday, October 29, 2020

The yearning for free expression is a thoroughly human aspiration and, unfortunately, so is the desire to control it. Big Tech is up to its prying eyeballs in both — opening new channels for expression it likes and squelching those it doesn’t. The double-dealers have been exposed by their attempts to ensure Republican Donald Trump goes down in defeat to Democrat Joe Biden in next week’s presidential election. Regardless of the outcome, a failure to hold digital media giants accountable for election interference would constitute a stunning loss for America.

Top social media-meisters, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, appeared virtually before the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday to answer a burning question regarding a key provision of the Communications Decency Act: “Does Section 230’s sweeping immunity enable Big Tech bad behavior?” Given the industry’s inflammatory impact upon an already-combative political season, “bad” is a feeble label.

Congressional Republicans see misbehavior in social media’s desperate efforts to censor a recent bell-ringer in The New York Post. The story unveils details of emails belonging to Hunter Biden alluding to business schemes in Ukraine and China that peddled the influence of father Joe, the former U.S. vice president and current frontrunner for president.

Twitter blocked the newspaper’s account, preventing users from sharing the story until links to the article are deleted. In response to widespread condemnation of apparent censorship, a sheepish Mr. Dorsey tweeted, “Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great.” Senators — and the American people — deserve a better explanation than a retrospective “oops.” For his part, Mr. Zuckerberg displayed his own “bad” conduct by slow-walking the sharing of the bombshell story on Facebook.

Since the Communications Decency Act’s passage in 1996, Section 230 has generally been regarded as a common good. It 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.” By acting as an electronic bulletin board, social media have created a useful community with billions of users.

The gradual inclusion of news feeds governed by algorithms that subtly boost some speech and suppress other has circumvented the law’s intent. And not so subtly, Twitter and Facebook have censored Mr. Trump and his campaign dozens of times without reining in Joe Biden once. Unsurprisingly, media-tech employees have demonstrated their preference for Biden-style “progressives” by sending them 90% of their political contributions this election cycle.

Social media provide a valuable service in allowing Americans to share family photos, favorite recipes and quips about the passing scene. When key moguls secretly put their thumb on the scale of political expression, though, they undermine the spirit of free speech. The law should no longer treat Big Tech platforms as open forums, but as the partisan publications they have become.

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