Politics | Tech | Coronavirus

Mitch McConnell Holds the Internet Hostage for Our $2,000 Checks

Further proof that Republicans understand neither Section 230 nor the needs of the American People

Shutterstock

Thirty-three million Americans have lost their job during the pandemic. According to Pew Research Center, in the early days of the outbreak, 28% of Americans had lost their jobs and a massive 43% had lost their jobs or have seen a significant decrease in their income, as early as April.

Millions of Americans were plunged into poverty as the pandemic has raged on with no signs of stopping and the likely much more severe winter ahead of us. Americans are afraid, we’re hurting, many are sick, and many are dealing with lingering effects from their previous COVID-19 illnesses and now long-running recoveries.

The economic hit is just the cherry on the nightmarish cake that’s been 2020 in the United States.

By July, forecasts were warning that forty million Americans could lose their homes, going homeless during the global pandemic that’s rocked the world. In August, the warning dipped slightly to a still-very-terrifying thirty million people. As the passage of time continued, the US government has continually put off the day of reckoning through a series of moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.

Moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures aren’t quite the same thing as canceling rent altogether. The difference is, rent and mortgage payments accumulate during a moratorium. Once the moratorium is lifted, tenants owe their respective institutions, be it a landlord or a bank, all the back due payments they were unable to make at the height of the pandemic.

It’s safe to say, a homelessness crisis beyond the scale of anything we’ve ever seen is lurking right around the corner.

The latest moratorium on evictions and foreclosures is in place until February 28th, the one that was passed along with the most recent coronavirus relief package that was passed this week that provided every American with a one-time payment of $600. It also expanded unemployment benefits, allowing for an additional $300 per week in unemployment assistance.

It was urgent that congress passed relief to bail out the millions of Americans who are struggling financially and those who are unemployed. Even still, $600 a month feels like a slap in the face.

$600 isn’t enough to pay rent for a one-bedroom apartment in any state in America. $600 is a little over half of the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the entirety of America.

$600 won’t cover your bills. $600 won’t cover most monthly insurance premiums. $600 won’t cover much food. And $600 won’t cover virtually any of the debts amassed by a population who’ve been forced into dire economic straits, both by the pandemic itself, and by the clear and negligent lack of a response to the pandemic.

In the immediate aftermath of the bill’s passage, President Trump called it “a disgrace,” and Americans share Trump’s frustration. It’s one of the rare times the President and Democrats found themselves on the same side.

Most Americans wanted the $1,200 promised in the Heroes Act that was passed by the Democratically controlled House six months ago, or the $2,000 that progressives in Congress, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders, have fought for.

House Democrats, not missing a beat, immediately put forth a bill that would give $2,000 checks to every single American who’s been crushed by the pandemic. The bill passed quickly and moved onto the senate. And, as anyone with internet access knows by now, it was killed in the Senate and buried in Mitch McConnell’s graveyard of bills. He refused to put it to the floor for a vote.

The Internet erupted in outrage. Americans are hurting and all we got is this $600? What do they think we live on? A single dry cracker and a glass of water a day? Giving hurting Americans $600 as the devastation of this pandemic unfolds is like handing a small band-aid designed for shaving nicks to a man who’s bleeding out from the gaping wound of a shotgun blast.

But fear not, says Mitch McConnell. If you thought things were bad already, Mitch has a plan to make them infinitely worse.

He’s put forth a relief package bill of his own and it involves holding the Internet hostage, in exchange for the $2,000 checks that almost everyone, including retired former Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, agrees should be taken to a vote.

The plan is to demand that we let Republican lawmakers remove Section 230 of the Communications Decency act, the section that protects internet web sites and apps from being sued for user-generated content, and it offers protections for removing destructive and harmful content from their platforms, so long as it’s done in good faith. This makes sense, and without it, the Internet as we know it would collapse.

It’s also what Trump has been pounding his chest about for weeks and now Mitch McConnell is going to attempt to do his bidding for him. They believe that the removal of the section will give them the right to sue tech companies for what they perceive as liberal-leaning bias, a bias that’s yet to be proven, and one that’s likely false.

What’s more likely, is conservatives want the ability to spread disinformation without any reprisal, from dangerous conspiracy theories about vaccine safety to the #stopthesteal conspiracy theory that falsely alleges that Joe Biden stole the election from Donald Trump. It’s also likely they either don’t understand and are outright ignoring the fact that the section’s removal will cause astronomical harm to the Internet.

Stop and think about every single site you use. From Facebook to Twitter, YouTube to Goodreads, and even Amazon. Every place that has a comments section will be subject to lawsuit over the comments left by users, comments that tech companies with platforms as large as they have, can’t be expected to police to perfection. These sites are just too big, with YouTube having billions of videos watched every single day. There aren’t enough people on the planet to police sites this big.

If an Amazon shopper leaves a racist review, Amazon as a company could be held liable and sued without 230, while simultaneously being powerless to remove the comment without 230.

You only need to think about this for a few seconds before you conclude that the section’s removal would cripple any site that relies on user engagement and commentary in order to operate. Social media companies would crumble rapidlysocial media couldn’t exist without users socializing and if socializing meant the risk of lawsuit for the platform, well, you do the math.

Amazon reviews, Yelp reviews, Facebook, Medium, and more, all rely on users to let us know which products we ought to buy or which stories we ought to check out. And all these sites would have to remove user-generated content or police it to the point of absurdity, or, run the risk of getting sued over that content.

And this is Mitch McConnell’s bargaining chip. It’s the ace in his back pocket. It’s his wildcard. And he’s going to throw it down on the table, demanding we risk significant and irreparable damage to the Internet itself if we want our $2,000 stimulus checks, the very checks that Americans so desperately need as we try to trudge our way through the bleak pandemic that’s rocked our lives.

This cannot be allowed to pass, for I fear it will do incalculable harm to the Internet as we know it. In the words of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, “Section 230 is the most important law protecting internet speech. And removing section 230 would remove speech from the Internet.” You can see the full video of Jack Dorsey addressing Congress over Section 230 earlier this year below.

This is the tensest moment of a tense year for me. But one thing is for sure, the Republican willingness to hold all of the things we love so dearly hostage to get their agendas passed, agendas that aren’t popular among the vast majority of Americans, is sickening. Let’s hope this doesn’t pass.

Thank you for reading. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and sign up for my newsletter. Here’s another story you might enjoy.

From Los Angeles, California. Life isn’t a series of many moments, but one moment that is always changing. Buy me coffee here: https://ko-fi.com/joeduncan

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store