This is the central issue with the conservative resistance to something like Section 230 reform. Such arguments usually begin at the reasonable premise that state-led central planning is bad, and that, in McCarthy’s words, “Washington tinkering will just strangle any would-be innovators while locking in Facebook’s dominance.” The difficulty here is that Washington tinkering already is locking in Facebook’s dominance; provisions like Section 230 are the definition of the government’s picking winners and losers. Insofar as tech executives such as Mark Zuckerberg have proposed Section 230 reforms to impose more stringent content-moderation requirements, it is almost certainly a calculated effort to get out ahead of what many in Silicon Valley see as the inevitability of regulation. It’s for much the same reason that Exxon Mobil came out in support of a carbon tax earlier this year: If legislative intervention is certain, it is better to be at the table than on the menu.
Section 230 reform, then, is not a substantive expansion of the federal government’s regulatory power. Such arguments misunderstand the nature of U.S. tech policy as it stands today. McCarthy argues that the “downsides” to large social-media companies like Facebook are “societal ills that Facebook inevitably reflects but does not cause. Rather than fixing Facebook, the Senate might think about how we fix those — which would mainly involve Washington’s minding its own business (business that only government can do and that the government we have is not very good at) and refraining from its suffocation of community life.” But that’s the problem: Washington isn’t minding its business.