Another Day, Another Ridiculous NY Times Opinion Piece That Is Confused About Section 230 And Free Speech Online

What is it with the NY Times publishing incredibly ridiculously wrong and confused articles and op-eds about Section 230? It’s gotten to the point that you have to think that they’re doing it on purpose. I’ve covered the NY Times getting 230 wrong (often in totally embarrassing ways) over and over and over and over and over again. And those are just examples from the past two years.

You’d think that maybe — just maybe — someone at the NY Times would now take the time to more carefully review any of their pieces on Section 230. But, apparently that’s not in the cards for the NY Times. The latest entrant is Timothy Egan, a long term journalist and NY Times opinion writer, who doesn’t seem to have any actual knowledge or experience regarding this topic. But apparently at the NY Times that makes you qualified to make grand pronouncements based on your feelings. The title of Egan’s piece suggests that maybe it’s going to present an interesting argument regarding free speech: I Used to Think the Remedy for Bad Speech Was More Speech. Not Anymore. I mostly disagree with this line, but there have been some interesting, and often thought-provoking arguments regarding this over the last few years.

But Egan’s is a weirdly facile argument that suggests he’s never had a chance to explore any of the deeper issues here, nor engage with any of the widespread scholarship on the topic. It presents the argument in a jumbled confusing mess… and then blames Section 230. All of it is wrong. He tries to lump in gun violence into this argument in a way that… I don’t understand at all:

Just recently, we saw the malignancies of our premier freedoms on display in the mass shooting in Boulder, Colo. At the center of the horror was a deeply disturbed man with a gun created for war, with the capacity to kill large numbers of humans, quickly. Within hours of the slaughter at the supermarket, a Facebook account with about 60,000 followers wrote that the shooting was fake — a so-called false flag, meant to cast blame on the wrong person.

So it goes. Toxic misinformation, like AR-15-style weapons in the hands of men bent on murder, is just something we’re supposed to live with in a free society.

I know of no one, even among the most ardent free speech supporters, who say this is “just something we’re supposed to live with.” There are deep debates about all of this — debates that Egan appears to not know about, nor even bothered to search up. There are studies, and conferences, and reports, and evidence, and books. All of which Egan ignores. Why bother? He’s got NY Times column space, and dammit, he’s going to spew disinformation and ignorance about how we need to derail free speech to combat disinformation and ignorance! It’s the NY Times way!

Second, it’s kind of meaningless to say that some idiot on Facebook published disinformation about the shooting if there’s no evidence that that disinformation had any impact. Did it spread? Did it make a difference? That matters, because not all disinformation flows that far.

Egan then makes some simplistic and not very useful suggestions for how he would deal with disinformation online: First, teach both older people and younger people how to be better media consumers and to avoid [ … ]

What do you think?

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