In the ever-shifting sands of trying to sanitize the interwebs for the same of the children, an interesting argument has arisen to eviscerate the Section 230 Safe Harbor of the Communications Decency Act: Mexican drug cartels.
Much like Hollywood celebrities, Mexican cartels have vast social media followings. The notorious Sinaloa Cartel has more than 88,000 followers on Twitter, for example, while Los Zetas, an uber-violent Mexican cartel that has broadcast murders on YouTube, has a Facebook universe with approximately 47,000 connected accounts like these.
To some extent, young, net-savvy criminals are using social media the same way as young people everywhere: to document and brag about their lives. Instagram and Twitter posts featuring cash, gold plated guns, luxury cars and even pet tigers are a powerful lure for jobless young men who see the gangster life as a path out of drudgery.
Are you shocked that drug cartels have twitter accounts? They can afford computers, keyboards and wifi (pronounced “weefee”), so there’s no impediment on that end. But why does twitter allow the Sinaloa Cartel to use its platform? Beats me. That’s a question for twitter, as twitter is a private company and can terminate the account any damn time it wants, like it does with anyone who twits that biology distinguishes sexes.
And it’s not as if these accounts aren’t, or can’t be, used for bad purposes.
Activities in cyberspace drive violence in real life. In one horrifying 2014 event, a Mexican physician who often tweeted about the drug war was herself murdered, with her killers using her own Twitter account to announce her death and broadcast grisly images of her dead body. This violence has often spilled into the United States, in particular with MS-13 using the internet to identify victims, and lure them to their death.
For reasons known only to Jack Dorsey, the twitter police have chosen not to terminate the cartel’s account, and so the syllogism* kicks in.
Despite the fact that bipartisan teams in Congress are trying to address this problem by reforming the laws governing tech, the U.S. Trade Representative has written this immunity into section 19.17 of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, which would, in effect, make it harder for Congress to reform the law.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have smartly called for that language to be stripped from USMCA and from future trade agreements. There’s still time for the Senate to amend the trade deal, which the House passed in December.
Mind you, the extension of the Safe Harbor to Mexico in the USMCA protects all Mexican voices, not just the cartel. But it also protects the cartel, along with other voices, and like the arguments made by unduly passionate advocates, that means the bad guys get the benefit along with the good guys.
Banks are liable for monitoring their platforms for dirty money. Firms must comply with laws banning them from selling sensitive equipment to criminals and terrorists. So why should tech firms be given a pass for facilitating the vile activities of violent gangs and cartels?
If this seems eerily reminiscent of the nonsensical arguments Mary Anne Franks makes to rationalize criminalizing revenge porn, that HIPAA prevents docs from revealing patient information so the First Amendment is a sham, it is. The banking industry is regulated by the government, and so the regulations include a reporting requirement for unusual currency transactions.
There’s no free speech involved at all, but more than that, it’s a condition of running a business subject to regulation. Same with physicians and HIPAA. I’m not a doc, and I can spill your medical info anywhere I want. It only applies to docs because they’re licensed, not because the First Amendment is a sham.
That there is bipartisan support for removing the safe harbor from the USMCA is hardly surprising. Nobody in government likes the fact that they can’t censor whatever they want to censor, even if the two sides want to censor very different things to clean up the internet. And who wants to come out in support of a Mexican drug cartel’s right to use twitter to threaten to kill its enemies or offer enticing employment opportunities to young men seeking the gangster life?
*Something must be done.
This is something.
This must be done.