Tennessee Lawmakers' Latest Attack On Section 230 Would Basically Ban All Government Investment

from the seems-counterproductive dept

We've been highlighting a wide variety of state bills from Republican-led legislatures that all attempt to attack Section 230. Nearly all of them are blatantly unconstitutional attacks on the 1st Amendment. Somewhat incredibly, the latest one from Tennessee might not actually be unconstitutional. That doesn't mean it's good. In fact, it's not just incredibly stupid, but demonstrates that the bill's authors/sponsors are so fucking clueless that they have no idea what they're doing. In effect, they'd be banning the state from investing any money it holds. To spite Section 230.

The bill -- which is House Bill 1441 and Senate Bill 1011 -- from Representative Tim Rudd and Senator Janice Bowling represent such a lack of understanding of how literally anything works that it should embarrass both elected officials and anyone who ever voted for either of them. The bill is pretty simple: it bans the state from investing in any entity protected by Section 230. The problem with this? Almost every single person and every single company is, in some way, protected by Section 230. So, in effect, the bill bans the state from investing any of its money.

Let's dig in on the specifics. The bill is pretty short and sweet. Here's the key part:

On or after August 1, 2021, monies within the pooled investment fund must not be invested in any entity that receives immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (47 U.S.C. § 230). Any monies from the fund that are invested in such an entity as of the effective date of this act, must be divested prior to August 1, 2021. Written notice of the divestment must be provided to any such entity at the earliest practicable time after the effective date of this act.

To be clear, this text would be inserted in Tennessee Code Title 9, Chapter 4, Part 6 which covers the disbursement and investment of state funds. Amusingly, Section 602 says that "It is the policy of the state of Tennessee that all funds in the state treasury shall be invested by the state treasurer to the extent practicable." The problem is that if this new law passes, there is almost no one who would be allowed to receive those funds, so "to the extent practicable" would be... non-existent.

Part of the issue, it seems, is that in their rush to attack "Section 230" neither Senator Bowling, nor Representative Rudd bothered to, you know, read Section 230. I'll cover the essential part for our discussion here today:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable...

No provider or user. Section 230 protects both the users and providers of an interactive computer service. So, basically any entity -- person or organization -- who uses an interactive computer service is protected under Section 230. And, based on the text of this bill, that means... just about anyone. If you use email, you're protected. So no entity that has email can receive investments from Tennessee state funds. No organization that has a website. I'm sure there might still be some neo-luddite organizations out there that don't use any computers at all, so perhaps the state of Tennessee will invest its funds in, like, a toy shop with an old fashioned cash register, and a rotary telephone or something. But that seems pretty limiting, and not a particularly good investment.

Obviously, this bill comes out of the very, very false belief that Section 230 only protects "big tech." That's a favored myth of Section 230 haters. Of course, that's never been the case. And you'd think that before writing legislation about it, someone who is elected to a state legislature would do the very least to actually read the law they're attacking. But, I guess that's too much to ask of Representative Tim Rudd and Senator Janice Bowling.

People of Tennessee, I beg of you: stop electing fools who are so focused on culture warrioring that they can't even be bothered to understand the bills they've introduced.

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Filed Under: bad legislators, investment, investment funds, janice bowling, section 230, tennessee, tim rudd


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  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 10:09am

    Whaaa???

    Gosh, I've seen political grandstanding, but this proposed bill doesn't just take it to 11, it takes it to 13! I mean, it would help if they would just read the section, but apparently reading one page is too much work for demagogic state representatives…

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 11:31am

      Re: Whaaa???

      Even if they don't read it (which is still unconscionable), you'd think lawmakers would run this shit past actual lawyers first. Ones that actually know the law.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Nathan F (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 11:34am

        Re: Re: Whaaa???

        Nope. They go about it backwards. Write it, pass it, then pray it doesn't harm anyone in a manner that is unconstitutional and hope they have enough money to take it all the way to the SCOTUS.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 2:55am

          Re: Re: Re: Whaaa???

          "Write it, pass it, then pray it doesn't harm anyone in a manner that is unconstitutional and hope they have enough money to take it all the way to the SCOTUS."

          Fat chance of that. They've just passed a law which legally forbids the state to pay their own campaign contributors. This is about as solid a case of political suicide as I've ever seen.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 11:43am

        Re: Re: Whaaa???

        I can see that working two ways, assuming they did run it past a lawyer:

        1 - The lawyers they were working with were honest ones that knew how stupid the bill was, told them, so they dropped that lawyer for not being as 'smart' as the writers of the bill and kept going through lawyers until they found one that agreed with them.

        2 - The lawyer they presented the text to took one look and immediately had 'Billable hours for days' ringing through their head, and told them the bill would be great without specifying who it would be great for.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2021 @ 1:08pm

        Re: Re: Whaaa???

        It's the same old syllogism:

        1. Something must be done.
        2. This is something.
        3. Therefore we must do it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nathan F (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 10:51am

    I guess that means these two representatives wouldn't get paid either as I'm sure they have a public website.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 11:03am

    "Obviously, this bill comes out of the very, very false belief that Section 230 only protects "big tech.""

    I find it incredible, the amount of words that have been wasted to misrepresent what that law actually says, when the original is about as clear and unambiguous as I can imagine a law to be. The mental gymnastics required to avoid what it actually says are impressive, but depressingly common.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 12:10pm

      Re:

      It is difficult to get a person to understand something when their entire argument depends on their (real or feigned) ignorance of it.

      That 'ignorance' is how I know that barring rare exceptions of honest confusion those attacking 230 aren't doing so in good faith, because if you misrepresent what the law actually says either you haven't bothered to read it, showing that you simply don't care what it actually says, or you have read it but want to attack a strawman because you realize that your claims don't match what the law says and honestly representing it would gut your argument.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 2:58am

      Re:

      "I find it incredible, the amount of words that have been wasted to misrepresent what that law actually says, when the original is about as clear and unambiguous as I can imagine a law to be."

      Not as incredible as the reactions are likely to be when every major corporation in the state, including every major political campaign contributor, discovers that their paid senatorial puppets have rendered the pork barrel illegal. Oops.

      "So let me get this straight. You decided to pass a law which forces the entire state of Tennessee to boycott our company?"

      • Irate CEO addressing his bought-and-paid-for senator, probably.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2021 @ 11:14am

    It is awfully bold for you to assume they can read.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jojo (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 11:14am

    Well done State of Tennessee, you went full retarded.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 11:54am

    Good old playing to the gullible

    I'm not sure which is worse honestly, that they were/are so clueless about the law that they didn't realize that this basically prevents the state from investing in any business that has an online component involving third-party content, or that they knew that but don't care because the point of the bill is nothing but grandstanding theater for idiots.

    Whatever the case the smarter people in that state really should remember this come next election(and some calls/emails today wouldn't be amiss), because these two have shown that they are absolutely not fit for any position that requires thinking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sigalrm (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 1:01pm

      Re: Good old playing to the gullible

      Thinking about it, they'd still be able to invest in foreign businesses with no US presence, since, technically, those businesses wouldn't be subject to Section 230.

      Of course, that might not be a great look for the state.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 3:03am

        Re: Re: Good old playing to the gullible

        Yeah, a bill which forces the state of Tennessee to not do business with anyone likely to contribute to the political campaigns of the state senators really isn't going to make the state look great, once the bloodletting starts.

        It's a rather brilliant exercise in self-destruction by those legislators.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2021 @ 12:18pm

    Looks like a gift to "Big Amish".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2021 @ 1:14pm

    "My bill will stop communism."

    "What's it do?"

    "It outlaws breathing."

    "But that would kill you and your constituents..."

    "No, it won't. That's a lie! I don't breathe. I inhale and exhale only!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 1:24pm

    We really should bring back horsewhipping.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    WarioBarker (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 1:39pm

    Given the sheer number of times Trumpists (can we even call them "Republicans" anymore?) and their allies have attacked Section 230 for "anti-conservative bias" (because things like fact-checking and negative consequences for speech are for everyone else), I think it's safe to say that Tim and Janice are doing this out of malice - if they can't kill off Section 230 directly, they'll hold their state's ability to invest for ransom.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2021 @ 2:00pm

      Re:

      The problem is it is both sides attacking 230 but for different reasons.

      Its almost like the politicians and those in power don't like being called out on their bullshit and the only way to put that genie back in the bottle is to try and stop people from calling out their bullshit by taking away any meaningful online discourse.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        WarioBarker (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 9:19pm

        Re: Re:

        I'm not saying both major parties aren't attacking 230, but as I understand it Democrats tend to think it isn't powerful enough (or at the very least, that Facebook, Twitter, and Google have allowed some crap to stay up while taking other crap down), whereas over the past four years Retrumplickins have yelled long, hard, and loud that "230 lets Big Tech engage in anti-conservative bias and censorship!" (which translates to, as you said, "[they] don't like being called out on their bullshit").

        Even so, corruption and bullcrappery should be called out no matter what anyone's political leaning is.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 10:58pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Or, to put it another way: Republicans are seeing it as a personal attack on them whenever they're affected by the consequences of their own actions, and are too dumb to understand that the cesspools they flee to and the outlets they use to whine about it are as dependant on 230 as the sites they rail against.

          Meanwhile, Democrats have seen the negative influence that social media had had on certain aspects of everyone's lives (live streamed shootings, political and scientific misinformation, etc) and wrongly believe that this can be fixed by changing 230.

          Even if they seem to have the same goal on the face of it, there's a better chance that the side who arrived at it through bad interpretation of factual data can be swayed by better facts than the people who think that it's personal against them.

          We'll see if that happens or if you're doomed to watch people destroying large parts of US industry through idealistic means rather than a childish tantrum, but at least there's a chance.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 3:08am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "Democrats have seen the negative influence that social media had had on certain aspects of everyone's lives (live streamed shootings, political and scientific misinformation, etc) and wrongly believe that this can be fixed by changing 230."

            Well, let's be fair. There are a lot of Democrats who dislike section 230 simply because everyone being able to post a sane and rational analysis of certain democrat voting histories and sexual escapades provides a bad look for certain democrat politicians.

            Safer to just say that most politicians in the US are heavily incentivized to clamp down on the common rabble being allowed free speech on popular platforms.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 11:17pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          That about sums up what I've seen as well, yes. The democrats attacking 230 want to keep the law they just want it to be warped and cranked up to 11 with a lot more stuff taken down, whereas the republicans want it to be gutted if not killed entirely because they keep being shown the door for totally unjustified and vague reasons and they're banking that if sites can be sued or otherwise punished for moderation then they'll do a lot less of it.

          Both may have bad ideas regarding 230 but one of those is much, much worse.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Toom1275 (profile), 10 Mar 2021 @ 1:39am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Democrats falsely attack Section 230 as an impediment to the removal of hate speech and terrorism, because they only see the "immunity for what you didn't publish" part and not the "immunity for exercising your first amendment right to moderate" part.

          Republicans just utterly despise free speech and the first amendment, and attack section 230 in attempts to end-run the Constitution and institute their projected fascist censorship regimes.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 1:40pm

    i was thinking

    That most people in politics were about c level lawyers.
    This seems to be More of an F' in lawyer school.
    I thought these people were supposed to be Learned. At least smarter then the average bear.
    They seem more like Wyle E. Coyote's grand nephew with undiagnosed dyslexia.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Avatar28 (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 2:41pm

    People of Tennessee, I beg of you: stop electing fools who are so focused on culture warrioring that they can't even be bothered to understand the bills they've introduced.

    Some of us are trying. The problem is that we're surrounded by red counties that only care about the R next to the name.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      morganwick (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 3:27pm

      Re:

      If "the people of Tennessee" who elect these people were worried about anything other than culture warrioring, these people would never sniff the state capitol to begin with. They probably think "section 230" refers to their favored college football team's rival's stadium.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2021 @ 5:23pm

    A prime example of why anyone proposing laws based on what they feel laws say instead of what the laws are actually written and interpreted as should immediately be removed from office and barred from ever being in a position of importance again. This is clearly a sign that anyone who failed 3rd grade reading comprehension has no business being an elected official.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    R.T., 9 Mar 2021 @ 8:47pm

    I'm sure there might still be some neo-luddite organizations out there that don't use any computers at all, so perhaps the state of Tennessee will invest its funds in, like, a toy shop with an old fashioned cash register, and a rotary telephone or something.

    Given, as you pointed out, that the state treasurer is required to invest the funds, I'd imagine that an awful lot of these kinds of businesses would start cropping up. :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 10:12pm

    They should expand it to cover any sate money going to anyone.

    That way, they'd make their own salaries illegal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Mar 2021 @ 5:00am

    sorry the intelligence has left the building.....

    this is just displaying the average intelligence level of our politicians.
    it must be easy being a politician, big corps. writes the laws, they read the foot notes and get the laws signed! nevermind all that extra paperwork($$$) that fills there pockets.......

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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