We keep trying to highlight the pitfalls and dangers of attacking the problems seen on social media as if Section 230 is the cause of them, rather than the mirror highlighting societal problems that other policies have failed to fix or have exacerbated. We already have one strong example of how attacking 230 only makes societal problems worse with FOSTA, which has put sex workers’ lives at risk, made it much harder for law enforcement to track down sex traffickers, and has done absolutely none of the things the backers of the law promised in terms of solving societal problems.
Now, other people representing the interests of more marginalized groups are beginning to speak out and warn about similar pitfalls. Ryan Hampton, a recovery advocate, who has written extensively on opioid addiction and recovery, has a very thoughtful opinion piece over at The Hill noting how Section 230 reform will be a disaster for harm prevention and recovery efforts. While I disagree when he refers to Section 230 as “obscure,” he’s correct that chipping away at it will cause tremendous harm to his efforts to help those in recovery and those seeking to deal with drug addiction.
Just as advocates urged Congress to rewrite Section 230 to prevent sexual exploitation—a similar campaign is underway to prevent drug sales and curb America’s soaring overdose death rate. Horrific stories involving young adults buying drugs on Snapchat and TikTok abound. Some parents and advocates want Section 230 rewritten to increase liability of social media companies for drug sales on their platforms. But efforts to clamp down on online drug sales through Section 230 carve outs are somewhat misguided. Without careful considerations, these reforms would endanger the recovery community and harm reduction advocates—and threaten to stifle productive speech that is critical for progress to combat the overdose crisis. Current proposed 230 carve-outs could undermine access to lifesaving resources, mandating takedowns of broad categories of content, and forcing vulnerable populations, including those navigating supportive services, off-platform. For criminalized communities, the risk for exploitation and harm offline is significant, and support and resources can be limited.
As Hampton explains:
Harm reduction efforts—and conversations—are often nuanced and specific to the individual, aiming to minimize harms of substance use. Blanket content bans, prescribed without consideration of context and nuance, could punish those seeking help—hamstringing legitimate, proven approaches to combatting overdoses.
Instead of broadly crushing free speech and pushing social media companies to eliminate our ability to share resources, the U.S. government should focus its efforts on things that work. To save lives, policymakers must develop a realistic national strategy to combat the overdose crisis, including implementing evidence-based prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery support services on the community-based level. Don’t kill the conversation.
This is why we keep pointing out that so much of this debate really seems to be about politicians, who have failed to put in place policies to help solve underlying societal problems, now see attacking Section 230 as a convenient way to brush those problems (and their own failures to deal with them) under the rug. If no one can discuss these issues without fear of liability, maybe people will just forget what’s actually happening?
It’s good that people like Hampton are speaking up and calling out the very real human risks of attacking Section 230, and silencing speech, rather than dealing with the underlying problems. The question, though, is whether any policymaker will listen.
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