Section 230 doesn’t have many admirers in Washington, D.C., and the need to change it may be one of the few things President Biden and former President Trump agree on—albeit for very different reasons.
To recap my previous post on Section 230 in case you missed it, we’re talking about these 26 words:
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
Many say Section 230 created the internet as we know it because it shields Big Tech companies from lawsuits related to anything posted on their sites and gives them the right to moderate content with little to no transparency or accountability.
President Trump disparaged Section 230 repeatedly because he thought it enabled social media platforms to censor him and other Conservative speech, while President Biden has criticized it because he believes it allows Big Tech to “propagate falsehoods they know to be false.”
Since the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, there’s even been talk about revoking the law entirely as many blame social media for spreading the elections fraud lies that stoked right-wing extremists.
While a total repeal seems unlikely, pressure from the public to fix Section 230 is mounting. In a Survey Monkey poll after the 2020 election for the group Repeal and Replace Section 230, 8 out of 10 people surveyed favor a repeal of Section 230 and the immunity it grants Big Tech and social media companies.
Despite some disagreement on what’s wrong with Section 230, politicians on the left and right are looking for a bipartisan approach to limit the statute’s broad scope.
The latest proposal comes from Democratic Sen. Mark Warner who unveiled legislation called the Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism, and Consumer Harms Act (SAFE TECH Act) earlier this month. The senator says his bill preserves free speech on the internet while eliminating immunity for paid content like political ads or online ads that scam consumers.
The bill also makes it easier to sue these platforms if they don’t take down malinformation: Photos, videos, or other information posted with the intent to harm someone. Warner argues that people who are cyberbullied or harassed should be able to secure injunctive relief.
“The SAFE TECH Act doesn’t interfere with free speech – it’s about allowing these platforms to finally be held accountable for harmful, often criminal behavior enabled by their platforms to which they have turned a blind eye for too long,” said Warner in the tweet below.
According to the Washington Post, civil rights groups like the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, and Color of Change support the bill because it will hold social media companies responsible for online hate speech and discrimination.
Even Twitter and Facebook have indicated they are open to incremental change to Section 230, but digital rights groups like Fight for the Future have already come out against SAFE TECH. “It essentially guts Section 230,” said Fight for the Future Director Evan Greer in an interview on CNBC. “It would solidify the monopoly power of the largest tech companies like Facebook and Google while crushing small sites and rendering the Internet almost completely unusable for activism and organizing.”
One of Section 230’s original authors, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, agrees and told TechCrunch.com that the SAFE TECH Act could “devastate every part of the open internet, and cause massive collateral damage to online speech.” He is vehemently opposed to removing immunity for paid content and is urging his colleagues to rethink the bill.
With another bill already introduced in the Senate and four more in the House, it’s hard to say if they can reach a consensus. But this much is true: Section 230 is in the crosshairs of Congress, and nearly everyone is unhappy with the status quo.