Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 has played an important role in the foundation and expansion of the internet. Section 230 protects technology companies from some liability for information shared on their websites or applications by users. This safeguard is an integral part of the digital world today, and gutting or significantly knee-capping it will lead to less innovation and expansion in America’s technology sector.
In a recent meeting, President Biden called in the CEO of Mozilla, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, and child safety and health experts for a “listening session” about Section 230. In the end, the Biden administration released six “Principles for Enhancing Competition and Tech Platform Accountability.”
The fourth principle calls for the removal of “special legal protections for large tech platforms,” i.e., Section 230. The Biden administration claims Section 230 offers legal protections to tech companies even when their users disseminate illegal material. However, this protection is a necessary component of the creation of open and free speech on social media websites such as Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter.
Without these protections, many large tech companies would face substantial legal exposure, as they would be responsible for all information shared on their website – even from anonymous accounts. The implications of this course of action would be far-reaching and would have harmful consequences for small businesses and start-ups as well, many of which won’t have the financial resources needed to protect themselves against lawsuits. As written two years ago by NTU’s Andrew Lautz, “the next generation of Googles, Facebooks, and Amazons - can thrive, grow, and innovate because of Section 230.”
Section 230 is now in jeopardy of being revoked, especially because policymakers in both parties have expressed support for Section 230 reform or repeal.
Some Republicans’ main concern with Section 230 has been over the alleged suppression of conservative political views and content. In September 2020, then-President Donald Trump met with state attorneys general to discuss revising Section 230 and holding tech companies responsible for alleged censorship.
Some Democrats believe that Section 230 does not do enough to guarantee that social media sites remove harmful or offensive content. After the January 6 Capitol attack, more Democrats joined the push for the revision of Section 230 to prevent the spread of misinformation and inciteful speech.
While some policymakers on both sides have an interest in the removal of Section 230, few have offered suitable proposals to replace the law. The removal of Section 230 could even leave government agencies with responsibility and power they don’t want. In 2019 Politico reported:
“Section 230 doesn’t give the FCC a regulatory hook to act on, and the Republican commissioners who lead the agency have already taken a hard line against one major government effort to regulate broadband providers’ conduct — the commission’s Obama-era net neutrality rules.
...Republicans at the FTC, which punishes companies for unfair or deceptive acts, also have said they don’t see a role for the agency in policing allegations of social media bias.”
Americans enjoy uninterrupted access to various information sources, and reserve the right to decide what information they agree with.
Section 230 is a vital piece of legislation that has played a key role in the advancement of information sharing in today’s world. Not only do large technology companies embrace this protection, but medium- and small-sized tech disruptors often do as well. Taxpayers have unfettered access to information from platforms provided by these companies, but removing Section 230 is not the solution to the grievances many have with these online platforms. The protections in place under Section 230 have fostered decades of digital innovation, and removing them will only prove to make the internet less free and less open.