Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) shredded Twitter during a hearing about the censorship of conservatives on social media in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
While grilling Nick Pickles, an executive from Twitter, Rep. Gaetz noted the tension between the company claiming that they enjoy free speech rights as a speaker while also being protected from facing consequences over things that users post under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Section 230 holds that platforms like Twitter and Facebook are not liable for user submitted content so long as the information at issue is provided by a third party, as they are considered a distributor and not a publisher or the speaker.
“What I want to understand is, if you say ‘I enjoy rights under the First Amendment’ and I’m covered by Section 230 — and Section 230 itself says ‘no provider shall be considered the speaker’ — do you see the tension that creates?” Rep. Gaetz asked.
Pickles acknowledged that he did see the tension, but asserted that Congress has previously acknowledged why it is important for platforms to be able to remove content, using child pornography as an example.
Rep. Gaetz then questioned if Twitter could remove someone for being gay or for being a woman, which the executive stated they would not since neither of those things are against their rules. However, this completely contradicted the position of the attorney defending Twitter in a lawsuit brought on by Jared Taylor.
“Okay, well, Jared Taylor is a horrible human being who you are currently litigating with — but that litigation, the transcript of it, seems to have some tension with what you’re telling Congress. The court in that litigation asked the question, ‘does Twitter have the right to take somebody off it’s platform because it doesn’t like the fact that the person is a woman or gay?’ The response from the attorney for Twitter was ‘the First Amendment would give Twitter the right, just like it would give a newspaper the right to choose not to run an op-ed from someone because she happens to be a woman,” Rep. Gaetz explained, which contradicted Pickles’ earlier claim.
In response, Pickles went on to say that their company is seeking to assure the committee that they do not take political beliefs into account when banning people from their platform.
“Is your view of Section 230 that it’s consistent with First Amendment principles… or do you read Section 230 to say that if you choose to be a public forum you surrender those First Amendment rights for the liability protections you get to be able to host content?” Rep. Gaetz asked.
The Congressman went on to explain that the way he reads that statute is pretty binary and that you have to be one or the other. Either you are protected under Section 230 or you are a speaker and can, as such, enjoy the full spectrum of your First Amendment rights. He stated that you cannot have it both ways — as Section 230 is only meant to protect distributors and not speakers.
“I would love for you guys to make a choice,” Rep. Gaetz asserted. “I just think it’s confusing when you try to have it both ways — when you get these liability protections, but at the same time have the right to throttle content.”