Democratic and Republican lawmakers have targeted Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects companies from the legal risk of hosting third-party content and allows them to police the content using their own set of standards.
Section 230 has come back into the political spotlight after Twitter suspended Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s account in early August and after an anti-immigrant manifesto was posted on Facebook by the El Paso, Texas, mass shooter.
Sen. Josh Hawley has been at the forefront of lawmakers’ pushback on big tech companies.
Hawley even proposed a bill in June that requires companies to submit an external audit to prove “that their algorithms and content-removal practices are politically neutral,” according to a media release.
“With Section 230, tech companies get a sweetheart deal that no other industry enjoys: complete exemption from traditional publisher liability in exchange for providing a forum free of political censorship,” the Missouri Republican said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, big tech has failed to hold up its end of the bargain.”
In an interview last month with Wired, he argued the power that tech companies have now was unimagined by the authors of the Communications Decency Act.
“So these platforms’ control over speech, over the channels of social communication, heck, even over political discourse is really, really significant,” Hawley said.
Even so, the freshman senator says these companies are legally able to “act like a more traditional publisher” by making decisions based on their own political viewpoint, but they shouldn’t be given the immunity that is provided by Section 230.
Even some Democratic lawmakers seem to think something needs to be done about the law.
“I do think that for the privilege of 230, there has to be a bigger sense of responsibility on it,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in an April interview with Vox.
“And it is not out of the question that that could be removed,” she said.
But former Republican Rep. Chris Cox of California, who helped write the law, thinks that Congress is barking up the wrong tree, NBC News reported.
“What matters in the statute is not whether you’re politically neutral. it’s whether you’re a content creator,” the California Republican said.
Michael Beckerman, the president and CEO of a lobbying group called the Internet Association, warned that without Section 230, “you’d end up with two extremes.”
“You’d end up with the 8chan-type websites or worse, where literally anything goes and the platform has no intent or interest to moderate the content. All the nudity. All the hate. All the extremism,” he told NBC.
“Or you would end up with the opposite of the extreme where every single piece of content that goes up on a website has to be pre-screened before it goes up.”
The Internet Association is holding its second event in a month on Thursday to talk about the benefits of Section 230, Politico reported.
But it might not be enough.
That’s because states have opened an antitrust investigation into Google, and the Trump administration is seeking to restrict Section 230 protections in response to alleged anti-conservative bias on platforms like Facebook.
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