Today’s social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Google, have complete control over what information Americans see. That’s because of U.S. legislation called Section 230 that passed in 1996 as part of the Communications Decency Act, says Abbey Stemler, an expert on internet law and regulation at Indiana University. Section 230 is said to contain “the most important 26 words in tech” and Stemler says the law both made the modern internet and is the most significant obstacle to stopping misinformation online. Section 230 states that internet platforms cannot be treated as publishers or speakers of content provided by their users. This means that just about anything a user posts on a platform’s website goes, including encouraging terrorism or promoting medical misinformation. Today, the legislation is disliked by both Democrats and Republicans alike. Democrats argue that Section 230 allows platforms to get away with too much misinformation; Republicans argue that platforms censor user content to Republicans’ political disadvantage. As these criticisms grow, it’s possible Section 230 could be reformed, although free speech and innovation advocates worry that proposed changes could be harmful. Facebook has suggested changes, and Google also advocates for Section 230 reform. It still remains to be seen whether anything can change the brief law that paved the way for Facebook, Google and Twitter.
In other news, with threats against Asian Americans on the rise and an ongoing crisis at the southern border, IUPUI anthropologist Susan Hyatt hopes to shed light on today’s immigration challenges by studying immigrants of the past – specifically, Jewish immigrants who arrived in Indianapolis and in the US during the early decades of the 20th century. Together with her students, Hyatt has been examining the experiences and challenges Jewish immigrants encountered as they left their home countries and arrived in Indianapolis, something Hyatt says is relatable to what many immigrants are experiencing now. Immigration is a very fraught and difficult process, she says, especially when people feel forced to leave their homelands for whatever reasons. Some of the public discussion today about immigrants who are coming from Latin America, Africa and Asia implies that non-European immigrants are less able to “fit in” and adjust to life in the US, Hyatt says. Through their research, which is supported by IU’s Racial Justice Research Fund, Hyatt and her students are challenging the current myth that immigration from Europe was any less difficult than the hardships immigrants face today, and are hoping to dispute the long-standing idea that immigrants coming to the United States need to completely assimilate as quickly as possible in order to be successful members of society. Hyatt says it is always instructive to examine the challenges and roadblocks that people in the past faced, as it prevents us from romanticizing our own history and helps us remember that the US is always being shaped and reshaped by the contributions and determination of all immigrant communities.