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House representatives want to sunset CDA Section 230 and give birth to stricter “censorship” rules
By Belle Carter // Jun 03, 2024

On May 22, a Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing was led by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wherein lawmakers discussed a new Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) proposal that would terminate the law and create a new stricter solution that "ensures safety and accountability for past and future harm."

Section 230 is an online liability shield that prevents online apps, websites and services from being held civilly liable for content posted by their users if they act in "good faith" to moderate content without being sued out of existence.

While no draft legislation has formally been introduced, Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) claimed to aim "not to have Section 230 sunset" but to "encourage" technology companies to work with Congress on Section 230 reform and noted that they intend to focus on the role Section 230 plays in shaping how Big Tech addresses "harmful content, misinformation and hate speech," according to the hearing memo.

During the hearing, several of the Congress representatives signaled that they want to use this latest piece of Section 230 legislation to force social media platforms to censor a wider range of content, including content that they deem to be harmful or misinformation.

To some observers, Section 230 has become a political football that the government uses to influence how platforms editorialize and moderate content, with pro-censorship factions threatening reforms that force internet platforms to censor more aggressively and pro-free speech factions pushing reforms that reduce the power of Big Tech to censor lawful speech.

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According to California's Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui, Section 230 "allowed the internet to flourish in its early days" but complained that it serves as "a haven for harmful content, disinformation and online harassment." She added the role of the provision needs immediate scrutiny because as it exists today, "it is just not working."

Another democratic Californian lawmaker, Rep. Tony Cardenas, complained that platforms aren't doing enough to combat outrageous and harmful content and mis-and-dis-information. "While I wish we could better depend on American companies to help combat these issues, the reality is that outrageous and harmful content helps drive their profit margins. That's the online platforms," he stated. "I'll also highlight, as I have in previous hearings, that the problem of harmful mis-and-dis-information online is even worse for users who speak Spanish and other languages outside of English due to platforms not making adequate investments to protect them."

While several lawmakers favored Section 230 reforms that pressure platforms to moderate more aggressively, Kate Tummarello, one of the witnesses and the executive director at the advocacy organization Engine, warned that these efforts could lead to censorship. "It is not that the platforms would be held liable for the speech," she said. "It's that the platforms could very easily be pressured into removing speech people don't like."

Trump publicly slams Section 230; Biden allegedly "hates" it too

Analysts have been expressing worry that internet social media platforms such as X, formerly Twitter, and Facebook have become too "powerful" these days and will grow even more if the Section 230 reforms are implemented.

For them, important political issues are being brought about by the "power" bestowed upon these platforms. Facebook may have even influenced the 2016 presidential election results by offering up its user data to shady outfits like Cambridge Analytica. Critics were also quick to point out that these sites have an anti-conservative bias. Right-wing figures who once rode the internet's relative lack of moderation to fame and fortune were being held accountable for various infringements of hateful content rules and kicked off the very platforms that helped create them. InfoWars’ Alex Jones and his expulsion from Facebook and other social media platforms are perhaps the best examples of this. Up to now, X chief Elon Musk allegedly won’t let him back.

Former President Donald Trump became a very vocal critic of Section 230 in 2020 after Twitter and Facebook started deleting and tagging his posts that contained inaccuracies about the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) and mail-in voting. He issued an executive order that said Section 230 protections should only apply to platforms that have good faith moderation and then called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make rules about what constituted good faith. This didn't happen and President Joe Biden revoked the executive order months after assuming the presidency.

Reports claim, though, that Biden is also not a fan of Section 230. During his presidential campaign, he said he wanted it repealed. As president, Biden has said he wants it to be reformed by Congress. Until Congress can agree on what’s wrong with Section 230, however, it doesn’t look likely that they’ll pass a law that significantly changes it.

Anti-Section 230 states have also been doing their part. In 2021, Florida passed the Stop Social Media Censorship Act, which prohibits certain social media platforms from banning politicians or media outlets. That same year, Texas passed HB 20, which forbids large platforms from removing or moderating content based on a user’s viewpoint but neither law is currently in effect.

A federal judge blocked the Florida law in 2022 due to the possibility of it violating free speech laws as well as Section 230. The state has appealed to the Supreme Court. The Texas law has made a little more progress. A district court blocked the law last year and then the Fifth Circuit controversially reversed that decision before deciding to stay the law to give the Supreme Court the chance to take the case. (Related: Flemish MEP warns right-wingers will be censored and kicked off social media.)

Check out Censorship.news to read how the government is suppressing free online speech.

Sources for this article include:




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