The controversial Section 230, protecting social media companies, may be under threat even with the incoming Biden/Harris administration.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects online platforms from being legally responsible for the content their users post. This has, in some ways, given rise to the toxic culture often associated with social media, as there are not strong incentives for companies to crack down on hate speech, cyberbullying and the like.
While companies have slowly began to self-moderate, it has increasingly become a murky situation. On the one hand, some critics have praised Facebook, Twitter and others for beginning to crack down on some content, while others have decried their attempts as censorship. These accusations have come from the very heights of government, as President Trump has alternated between using Twitter as his preferred communication platform and blasting the company when it flags his posts containing misinformation. As a result, most recently, Trump has even threatened to veto a defense spending bill unless Section 230 is repealed.
The situation is further complicated by the very fact that social media companies have begun moderating content. Critics argue the companies no longer need, nor should have, the protections of Section 230 since they’ve already begun to self-moderate—the very thing they weren’t legally required to do.
While Trump has been clamoring for the repeal of Section 230, some had thought a new administration might take a different approach. It appears, however, that Section 230’s future may still be uncertain.
At a virtual book launch hosted by Georgetown Law, Bruce Reed—who served as a top tech advisor for President-elect Joe Biden during his campaign—made the case for changes to Section 230.
I think there’s an emerging consensus that it’s long past time to hold the big social media platforms accountable for what’s published on their platforms, the way we do newspaper publishers and broadcasters.
Needless to say, Reed’s comments are non-binding. In the interview he even goes so far as to say that he doesn’t speak for the new administration’s tech policy. Nonetheless, his observations come from years serving as a close associate of Biden, both as a campaign tech advisor and as his chief of staff during his time as vice-president.
Therefore, while non-binding, Reed’s comments may very well indicate change is on the horizon for Section 230.