Crowdfunding and the Hidden Digital Danger

Christine Blasey Ford listens to her attorney Michael Bromwich while testifying the Senate Judiciary Committee with in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington

In a September 2018 appearance on “CBS This Morning,” member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) opined that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford had “nothing to gain” in stepping forward with allegations against Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

A few days later in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) stated in the form of a question to the host a similar opinion.

“What in the h*** did she have to gain by doing this?” Durbin queried.

History suggests that there are a host of significant gains that may indeed be awaiting Ford. One has already surfaced via a digital platform. It arrived in the form of “crowdfunding,” i.e., the practice of financing a venture or cause by raising money from a large number of people utilizing specialized websites on the Internet.

Two crowdfunding accounts on the GoFundMe website, which were made on behalf of Ford, have raised approximately $740,000. For reasons unknown, at present the two GoFundMe accounts are no longer accepting donations.

The first GoFundMe account, labeled “Dr. Blasey’s security costs,” raised $210,000 in ten days. The GoFundMe campaign was created by a third party, a Georgetown law professor named Heidi Feldman, indicating that it was established “on behalf of the Ford family.” The campaign exceeded its initial goal of $175,000.

The account urged that donations be sent because of the following: “Due to death threats, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (who uses ‘Dr. Blasey’ professionally) and her family have had to leave their residence and arrange for private security.”

Feldman assured donors that she would “make arrangements to transfer funds to Dr. Blasey.”

The second GoFundMe account, labeled “Help Christine Blasey Ford,” was set up by “Team Christine Blasey Ford.” With an initial goal of $150,000, it raised approximately $530,000 in ten days. The GoFundMe description read, “The money raised from this campaign is going directly to the Ford Family.”

The subject of Ford’s crowdfunding came up during the Senate Judicial Committee hearing on Judge Kavanaugh, when Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell questioned Ford about her polygraph and legal fees.

“I’m aware that there’s been several GoFundMe sites that I haven’t had a chance to figure out how to manage those, because I’ve never had one done for me,” Ford stated.

After Mitchell asked for clarification, Ford responded, “GoFundMe sites that have raised money, primarily for our security detail. So I’m not even quite sure how to collect that money or — and how to distribute it yet. I haven’t been able to focus on that.”

Interestingly, after Ford’s mere mention at the hearing of the GoFundMe sites, more than $200,000 in donations flowed in to the “Help Christine Blasey Ford” campaign, which was, according to the New York Times, “more money than it had gained in the past eight days.”

During the questioning regarding funds and fees, Michael Bromwich, one of Ford’s lawyers, interrupted the process and said, “I can help you with that. Both her co-counsel are doing this pro bono. We are not being paid and we have no expectation of being paid.”

Bromwich represented Andrew McCabe and reportedly assisted the former FBI official in using crowdfunding to pay for legal fees.

Soon after McCabe was fired from the FBI for making false statements to investigators about leaking information to the media, a GoFundMe page, titled “Friends of Andrew McCabe,” appeared on the site. In less than one month, approximately $538,000 was raised to help cover McCabe’s legal fees.

Bromwich’s K-Street firm, The Bromwich Group, set up the GoFundMe account. Bromwich served as Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management under former President Barak Obama. Prior to this position, he served as Inspector General of the Department of Justice under former President Bill Clinton.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley recently expressed concern that crowdfunding may be being used in a manner that enables legal testimony to be purchased.

“You can buy a witness effectively by funding them as long as they’re saying the type of thing that you want them to say,” Turley cautioned.

The notion that money could potentially be used to purchase testimony from favorable witnesses poses a threat to a functioning legal system and the fundamental precepts of due process.

In the end, it is not merely about what an individual has to gain, but rather what our country and her people have to lose.

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John Kerry’s Telling Remarks

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John Kerry appeared on a recent cable broadcast of “Real Time with Bill Maher” to promote a book, increase his possible presidential profile, and deliver a Left Coast attack on the current sitting president.

The segment did not go as swimmingly as Kerry likely intended. In what appeared to be a pre-written attempt at humor, he told Maher, “He [President Donald Trump] is the first president that I know of who spends more time reading his Twitter ‘likes’ than his briefing books or the Constitution of the United States.”

The former secretary of state-turned-comic received the usual applause from the left-leaning audience, but few laughs. He went on to acknowledge that he has been engaged in what many government officials and private citizens as well view as rogue diplomacy.

In what appears to have been an effort to revive the now-defunct Iran nuclear deal, the probable presidential aspirant revealed that behind-the-scenes he has been in talks with a high-ranking representative of Iran.

Prior to the “Real Time” venue, in a separate media appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, Kerry had already admitted that he had met several times with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, and that the talks had taken place without the approval of the Trump administration.

On the actual day of the “Real Time” taping, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to the podium regarding Kerry’s unauthorized meetings.

“You can’t find precedent for this in U.S. history, and Secretary Kerry ought not to engage in that kind of behavior,” Pompeo said in a press conference at the State Department. “It’s inconsistent with what foreign policy of the United States is as directed by this president, and it is beyond inappropriate for him to be engaged.”

“I’ll leave the legal determinations to others,” Pompeo added. “But what Secretary Kerry has done is unseemly and unprecedented. This is a former secretary of State engaged with the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.”

The day following Kerry’s appearance on Maher’s show, Pompeo took to Twitter to post a pair of tweets that focused on the Obama administration’s dubious Iran nuclear agreement, which was arranged under Kerry’s stewardship.

“What @JohnKerry has done by engaging with #Iran’s regime, the world’s top state sponsor of terror, is unseemly, unprecedented, and inconsistent with U.S. foreign policy. The deal failed. Let it go,” Pompeo said in a tweet.

The secretary of state then added the following second post: “#JCPOA [the Iran nuclear deal is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] didn’t stop all paths for #Iran to develop nuclear weapons, contrary to the way it was sold to the American people.”

The “legal determinations” to which Pompeo made reference in his press conference involve the Logan Act, the same law that then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates used against then-National Security Advisor designee Michael Flynn.

The Logan Act does not apply to an incoming official engaged in transition activities for a new administration, which was the case with General Flynn. It would, however, appropriately apply to a former secretary of state who may have misused his contacts and secretly negotiated with a dangerous foreign power without authorization from the current administration.

Depending upon the specific details of Kerry’s interaction with Zarif, he could be subject to the provisions of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires registration and transparency by individuals or companies acting on behalf of foreign governments, political parties, or persons. This is the identical statute that was used to prosecute former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Kerry appears to be unconcerned about the remarks that he made regarding his potential illegal behavior, focusing instead on how his humor is playing out with the leftist base and the greater public.

On Maher’s show, Kerry schooled the audience on how democracy relies on the truth, but the truth rings hollow with regard to current pertinent events surrounding Kerry, as well as some significant ones in the past.

“Unfortunately, we have a president,” Kerry said, “literally, for whom the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is three different things…”

It is the height of irony that the former secretary of state would invoke the value of truth. When Kerry returned from Vietnam, he used the anti-war sentiment that was prevalent in the media to acquire fame by making himself a leader of the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Kerry publicly relayed a number of gruesome tales, which accused U.S. military personnel of engaging in brutal war crimes. He now refers to his slanderous stories impugning the U.S. armed forces as an exaggeration.

As a set up to what Kerry must have thought was his line of the evening, he professed to not want to “get into a real riff” on it, but then suddenly the following words rolled off his tongue.

Speaking about the current president, Kerry said that he has “the maturity of an eight-year-old boy with the insecurity of a teenage girl.”

Kerry presently appears to harbor an intense desire to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party in the next election cycle. Among his many celebrated causes, he has professed to be a staunch advocate for women’s rights.

It will be interesting to see whether Kerry, with his “teenage girls” comment and his characterization of young women as “insecure,” will be held to account or even asked to explain how blatant stereotyping and not so subtle ridicule is somehow acceptable in the present day and age.

Les Moonves’s Career at CBS Comes to an End

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In July of 2018, the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow completed a detailed investigation, centering on sexual misconduct allegations from six women against CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves.

The women claimed that Moonves had propositioned and/or had forcible physical contact with them, threatened retaliation against those who had rejected him, and otherwise maintained a workplace in which sexual harassment went unabated.

Allegations put forth by the women suggested that a toxic culture existed at CBS. When the allegations went public, Moonves responded at the time with an acknowledgement that he was responsible for making “some women uncomfortable.” However, he denied claims that he had harmed the careers of those who had resisted him.

It looked as though Moonves was on his way to weathering the #MeToo storm. CBS had launched an investigation into the allegations in Farrow’s report. However, Moonves was allowed to remain on the job while the investigation of sexual misconduct proceeded, unlike many other figures who had been accused of sexual impropriety.

Then, like a series of aftershocks after an earthquake, an additional six women stepped forward, via reporting by Farrow, with accusations against Moonves.

The most recent alleged incidents of sexual misconduct purportedly took place over a span of 30 years from the 1980s to the early 2000s.

The additional claims against Moonves by the second group of women contain more serious allegations than those reported by Farrow earlier in the year. This latest set of allegations includes incidents in which the entertainment executive is alleged to have forced victims to engage in sexual activity, exposed himself to alleged victims, or used physical violence and intimidation against them. Some of the women also claim that Moonves retaliated against them professionally after they refused to comply.

Some of the more recent accusers have chosen to go on the record and shed their anonymity, including a television executive whose claims date back to the 1980s and a former assistant who recounted an incident from 1994.

In a statement to the New Yorker, Moonves acknowledged that three of the encounters occurred and claimed they were consensual. He flatly denied using his position in a retaliatory way to interfere with the careers of the women.

Under the circumstances, options appear to be limited in this case. The relevant statute of limitations does not allow a proceeding using criminal law, and obtaining witnesses and/or documents from thirty or forty years ago poses a great deal of difficulty.

What really caused Moonves’s tenure at CBS to end, prior to the conclusion of the investigations, were reports in numerous media outlets that negotiations were taking place concerning a proposed exit package for the television executive that involved a large dollar amount.

The most recent accusers were prompted in part to come forward due to the public reports of Moonves’s exit package, which was said to be valued at approximately $100 million.

“Many of the women found that very, very frustrating,” Farrow told CNN. “They felt this was a board that has let a powerful man who makes a lot of money for this company, in the words of one person, ‘get away with it.’”

The end result is that six weeks after Farrow published the first allegations against him and twenty-three years after he first joined CBS, Moonves has been forced out of the network.

However, the previously reported $100 million payment package to Moonves is likely to be eliminated or drastically reduced, due to the increased potential culpability relating to the allegations of the second group of women as well as the cumulative effect of the allegations of all twelve accusers.

CBS’s leverage against Moonves has been significantly increased because the company is now able to claim that the executive may be terminated “for cause.”

Significantly, the exit agreement reportedly also includes a settlement of the litigation between Moonves and Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholder of both CBS and Viacom. Moonves and Redstone had been in a heated legal battle over whether to combine CBS and Viacom, with Redstone urging a merger and Moonves resisting such a move.

With Moonves gone, the merger is highly likely to take place in the very near future.

Antitrust Law Should Be Used to Break Up Big Tech Monopolies

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President Donald Trump, via his Twitter account, recently prompted a public discussion about the possibility of using antitrust law against major technology companies, due in part to a growing body of evidence that bias is being perpetrated against conservative individuals and entities by such companies.

The primary rationale of antitrust enforcement is the protection of the American consumer and free market economy from unprincipled business behavior by monopolistic enterprises.

Never before in the nation’s history have companies, such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon, among others, possessed the size, wealth, dominance, control, and sheer power that the tech giants do.

With more than 70 percent of the PC search market and almost 85 percent of the mobile device market, Google currently has a virtual stranglehold on the gateway to digital information. And Google’s video social media platform, YouTube, controls almost 80 percent of the video market.

Facebook has about 2 billion users worldwide, and when the company’s additional acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp are factored in, 95 percent of young people regularly log on to Facebook platforms.

When it comes to Amazon, by the year’s end the company will have swallowed up almost 50 percent of the U.S. e-commerce business, and additionally lays claim to 80 percent of the e-book market. Amazon is also the largest provider of hosted cloud services, and the odds are strong that an online sales firm that competes with the company would likely be using Amazon servers for its own website.

Research on Google searches has produced data, which indicate that bias against conservative news outlets, blogs, and websites exists, and additionally indicate that ideologically right-of-center content has actually been removed from YouTube.

Despite Google’s denial of bias, PJMedia recently conducted a count of search results relating to President Trump and found that 96 percent of the most visible news articles that arose were generated from liberal outlets.

The Daily Caller reported that Google’s fact check feature engages almost exclusively in the targeting of right-of-center sites.

Facebook has exhibited bias in its trending topics, as well as in its removal of conservative content, and Amazon has manipulated book reviews to favor leftist writers.

Despite promises to the contrary, Facebook continues to censor ideas based on conservative content and has recently been caught doing so. A New York Post article by Salena Zito, which noted that supporters of President Trump were unaffected by the conviction and plea deal of two prominent Trump-associated individuals, Zito’s article was labeled as “spam.”

Facebook even took down an article titled “The School Shootings That Weren’t,” posted by NPR, that showed the number of school shootings, which were claimed to have taken place during the 2015–2016 school year, was highly inflated.

The president is correct in suggesting that the use of antitrust law against tech companies may be a necessary step that the government needs to take in order to awaken the tech giants to the duty that they have, to exercise greater responsibility in their approach to users and content. If they do not, consequences may result as seen with other companies, which were divided into smaller less monopolistic concerns.

In a previous antitrust filing, AT&T was split up into eight much smaller companies, and Standard Oil was divided into 34 firms. Each of these companies possessed the ability to almost totally dominate their respective market. The original AT&T accounted for 93 percent of all telephone calls made in the U.S., and Standard Oil sold 87 percent of U.S. refined oil.

An antitrust case that began in the early years of former President Bill Clinton’s administration was ultimately settled by the Department of Justice. Microsoft had been accused of abusing monopoly power on personal computers, in its handling of operating system and web browser sales, by bundling its Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating system.

Microsoft’s actions are strikingly similar to a recent Google business practice. To insure its dominance of the mobile market, Google forced carriers and manufactures that used its Android operating system to make Google Search the default search engine and include a number of Google apps as well.

In 2008 the Bush Justice Department threatened to bring an antitrust action against Google, due to a proposed partnership with Yahoo for the sale of advertising. At the time, Google had a 70 percent share of the market, and Yahoo, with 20 percent, was the second largest search engine.

Due to the monopolistic realities of these giant tech companies, startups that might compete with the giants may end up being smothered. For example, an entrepreneurial startup company with products that compete with Google offerings has to be concerned that Google will give its own product a higher ranking and may even hide the new company’s competing products.

This poses a danger to the overall consumer market, because consumers lose the ability to become aware of and/or purchase any innovative products that startup companies might have to offer.

Both Google and Facebook maintain that their companies should not be the subject of antitrust scrutiny, because their product is said to be provided to their users free of charge. However, participants who are obtaining the services for free are not the actual customers of the companies. The real paying customers, in both search and social media, are the advertisers and publishers that pay for the ability to broaden their own pool of consumers.

The argument can be made that the big tech companies, via paid search advertising and paid social media advertising, have morphed into monopolies, and these monopolies have effectively stifled competition and innovation, while having a deleterious effect on the free market economy.

Probe by the Special Counsel Continues to Broaden in Scope

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The Wall Street Journal recently broke the story that Allen Weisselberg had been granted immunity by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.

Weisselberg is the longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization and also serves as the treasurer of the Trump Foundation.

The CFO has been with the Trump family since 1970, when he began working for President Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump. Weisselberg currently co-manages the Trump businesses along with President Trump’s adult sons.

Weisselberg was called to testify to a grand jury earlier this summer. As the CFO, he presumably has a wealth of knowledge about the Trump Organization’s internal cash flow.

Presently, Weisselberg has been given immunity related solely to the payments that Michael Cohen made to two women with whom Trump allegedly had affairs. However, through use of the same above-described investigation, prosecutors could potentially subpoena additional records from the company, and the investigation could undergo a further expansion.

Through use of the offices of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, it appears as though the legal team of Special Counsel Robert Mueller has obtained a foothold with which to examine President Trump’s private businesses activities.

A look at how the investigation initially came into existence helps to provide insight regarding the current direction of the probe.

In May 2017, through an order issued by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Mueller, a colleague of Rosenstein, was appointed to the position of special counsel, following the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey.

Questions about conflicts of interest arose, including those surrounding the situation in which Mueller had unsuccessfully interviewed for the position of FBI director the day prior to his appointment as special counsel. Mueller’s appointment materialized after a push had taken place, primarily on the part of Democrats, for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself, and Sessions acceded to the demands.

The language used in the appointment of the special counsel was broad in scope and essentially gave Mueller carte blanche to investigate without restrictions or limits on length, breadth, and/or monetary considerations.

Mueller went on to assemble what appeared to be a highly partisan team, which included the following individuals:

-Senior prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who attended 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s election night gathering and also sent a congratulatory email to former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates after she blocked the so-called travel ban that had been issued in the early days of the Trump administration;

-Jeannie Rhee, a lawyer who represented the Clinton Foundation and also worked for Ben Rhodes, a former Obama administration NSA deputy director;

-Aaron Zebley, who represented the individual who installed Hillary’s private email server and who was also involved in the destruction of some Blackberry devices;

-Peter Strzok, former Chief of the Counterespionage Section of the FBI, who had led the tepid FBI investigation into Hillary’s use of a private email server, and who also initiated the aggressive investigation of the Trump campaign, which led to the Mueller appointment;

-Lawyer Lisa Page, Strzok’s colleague and paramour, who had exchanged text messages that revealed a bias against then-candidate Trump. Both Page and Strzok were removed from Mueller’s team for public relations reasons, according to the testimony of Strzok.

In 2009 Harvey Silverglate penned the book “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.” In the foreword to the book, Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz discusses his experiences litigating cases in the old Soviet Union. Dershowitz notes that, due to vague interpretations of Russian laws, anyone could be prosecuted. The professor reminds us that it was Lavrentiy Beria, the infamous henchman of Joseph Stalin, who assured the dictator of the following: “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.”

The investigation was born amid multiple misgivings, which included, among other things, dubious FISA warrants obtained with a dossier paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Contributing to the cloud of confusion that continues to surround the investigation is the fact that from its beginnings it had been minus a mandate of a specific crime with which it had been tasked to investigate, and the investigatory team has continued in its growth pattern.

Anti-Trump Media Attempt to Tamper with the Manafort Jury

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Paul Manafort worked as a manager for the Trump campaign for approximately three months back in 2016.

A high-profile trial has been taking place over the last three weeks in the courtroom of Judge T. S. Ellis. Manafort has been charged with eighteen counts of income tax evasion and bank fraud. The jury in the case is presently deliberating.

Still smarting from the unexpected results of the 2016 election, many in the mainstream media have been feverishly covering each step of the investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as well as the Manafort trial, which they view as the singular most important legal event for Mueller thus far.

However, two recent events that happened during the trial have seemingly generated concern and even anxiety within the mainstream media over the possibility that the trial’s outcome may not be the one for which the outlets had longed.

First, Manafort’s defense team rested its case without presenting witnesses or actual evidence of any kind, making it abundantly clear that the defense lawyers were taking the position that the prosecution had not met its burden of proof.

Second, while still in the process of deliberating, the jury asked four questions of Judge Ellis.

The first three questions dealt with relatively trivial matters concerning forms, exhibit lists, and such. However, the fourth question, which requested that the judge “redefine reasonable doubt,” set off waves of nervous discussion within mainstream newsrooms.

In this case, the burden of proof that rests on Muller’s shoulders is to present sufficient evidence so that the jury will be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Manafort is guilty of the crimes with which he has been charged.

By inquiring about the “reasonable doubt” standard, it could well be the case that the jury had been wrestling with the issue of whether or not the evidentiary burden had been met, which could indicate that a possible hung jury, or even an acquittal, is forthcoming.

Either of the above results would constitute a major blow to the already sinking reputation of the special counsel probe. The partisans that populate the newsrooms of the mainstream media would not be able to tolerate such a result.

This may explain why CNN, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Politico, the New York Times, NBC Universal, and the Associated Press sprang into action and had their lawyers file a motion to seek the release of the full names and addresses of every one of the jurors.

The timing of the request is extremely suspicious, and there is little, if any, newsworthiness in obtaining this type of information. The mainstream media were apparently unconcerned with the names and addresses of the jurors when they were selected weeks ago, yet they rushed into court to seek the unveiling of the jurors’ names and addresses on the day after the same jurors inquired about the meaning of “reasonable doubt.”

Fortunately, Judge Ellis ruled against the motion, and in the process revealed that he had personally received death threats and therefore had to be guarded by federal agents.

Judge Ellis also indicated that he was convinced that the jurors could be placed in harm’s way if their names and personal contact information were released. He additionally told the courtroom that the jurors were “scared” and “afraid.”

This jury has not been sequestered. The media outlets that filed the motion are fully aware that there is a high probability that the individual jurors will find out that a host of wide-reaching news organizations were seeking to expose their names and locations.

Manafort has a constitutional right to a trial by a jury of his peers. The jurors, who are fulfilling a civic duty, should have their personal privacy respected during the deliberation process. Outing the names of jurors would be an unethical and egregious interference with due process.

The Digital Threat to Free Expression

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Recently, in a series of unprecedented moves on the part of four major social media platforms, free expression was deliberately brought to a halt.

That the thwarting of the free expression in question took place on the same day adds to the alarming nature of the action by the digital powers that be.

Alex Jones’s InfoWars content was banished from Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify. The move appears to have been a coordinated effort.

The removal of the content was evidently motivated by a desire to rid the platforms of supposed hate speech. However, the same platforms continue to display pages that have far more incendiary and/or offensive content than InfoWars posted.

Provocateur Jones’s site was a convenient quarry for tech companies to begin their purge of content that they subjectively deem undesirable.

However, tech giants have laid down a track record that indicates they cannot be trusted to maintain a fair venue for the marketplace of ideas.

Approximately 70 percent of the people within our country now obtain their news from Google and Facebook. Additionally, the major tech concerns have a virtual stranglehold on the manner in which billions of people around the globe communicate.

Truth be told, there has never been a more massive concentration of media power than that which is squarely in the hands of Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and a smattering of other internet companies.

As digital companies go about the business of justifying censorship, many are looking for solutions via regulation.

Restraints on speech imposed by private companies are not protected by the First Amendment, and companies do not have a legal obligation to provide freedom of speech to their users. While internet companies were once fierce advocates of free expression, this is unfortunately not the case anymore.

Being larger than many governments of countries throughout the world, the tech giants act in a quasi-governmental manner when they eliminate or limit speech within their internet province.

Some have proposed turning the big tech giants into public utilities. Others have urged breaking up the companies through the use of anti-trust law, a logical idea when considering that the major tech firms have essentially become a monopoly with no significant competition, e.g., Google’s dominance of the internet video market and Facebook’s rule over the social media sector.

British Prime Minister Theresa May recently suggested that social media platforms be treated like news organizations, which would render them responsible for content appearing on their platforms.

Rep. Steve King has recommended revisiting the law that shields internet companies from being treated as the publisher of content users’ posts, thus restoring legal responsibility for defamatory and other tortious or criminal content that is published. The Iowa congressman is referring to a statutory provision that made the current internet social media landscape possible: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Publishers of content are typically liable for the material they disseminate, even when the content originates from individual unpaid contributors, such as a “letter to the editor.”

In 1996, when the web as we know it was still in its infancy, Congress passed the Communications Decency Act. An amendment to the original bill, Section 230, stated, “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.”

The statute protected Internet providers from being deemed news organizations and gave legal immunity to the tech companies, ostensibly to foster industry growth and freedom of speech.

The U.S. Supreme Court stripped away much of the bill in 1998, but Section 230 was left unscathed.

Later precedents interpreted Section 230 broadly so that digital platform companies could grow exponentially, without serious concern for illegal speech placed on their platforms. And grow they did, to become the gargantuan companies that they are today, complete with secret algorithms that render selected users invisible. At the start, the young companies would not have been economically feasible minus the provision.

The law also prevents liability in the event “objectionable” material is removed. If the companies do choose to eliminate offensive user-created content, their immunity is not forfeited.

These massive companies are essentially being treated by the law as if they are still mere startups. Although many in the tech community see Section 230 as sacrosanct, i.e., not to be touched, the provision was modified by a bi-partisan coalition in Congress earlier this year. President Trump signed legislation amending Section 230 in April 2018, denying some legal immunity to internet platforms in order to fight sex trafficking.

More carve outs of the statute, or the threat of such, will get the attention of the tech giants and perhaps motivate them to return to the free and open platforms they once wanted to be.