Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a statue that essentially grants immunity from liability to websites, social media platforms, and search engines for what users post. This law was created back in 1996, before platforms like Facebook and Twitter became as influential on how we consume information as they are today. It’s no secret that misinformation and defamatory content are huge issues online. Now, the Department of Justice and the Trump Administration are looking to reform the law in order to promote transparency and open discourse and address illicit activity online.
You could probably guess that tech CEOs are against this change and if you did, you’re right. In fact, on Tuesday October 27th, 2020, Google and Twitter released prepared remarks warning against the proposed changes, while Facebook took the opposite approach – asking for more government regulation.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey argues that “Section 230 has allowed small companies to scale up to compete against established, global companies and eroding it could destroy how we communicate online. He says only the largest, well-funded tech companies will survive,” according to NBC.
Dorsey also argued that weakening or removing Section 230 would limit the network’s availably to address harmful content and promote more speech removal.
Both sides of the political spectrum are concerned with how social media networks and tech companies moderate user generated content.
Just recently, Twitter blocked a link to a New York post article that claimed to contain “dirt” on presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son. At the time, Twitter removed it before it was verified and received backlash from conservatives who believe it was wrong to block the story ahead of its fact check and may be a form of election interference.
Dorsey later apologized for blocking the story, “Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix. Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that.”
Mark Zuckerburg, on the other hand, believes the law should be changed.
“The debate about Section 230 shows that people of all political persuasions are unhappy with the status quo. People want to know that companies are taking responsibility for combatting harmful content — especially illegal activity — on their platforms. They want to know that when platforms remove content, they are doing so fairly and transparently. And they want to make sure that platforms are held accountable,” Zuckerberg said, “Changing it is a significant decision. However, I believe Congress should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended.”
Many find it troubling that these tech giants basically get to choose why certain posts are taken down; as many are aware, they each have their own political biases and beliefs. As attorneys, it is also troubling that social media platforms are not required to remove defamatory content – especially if it is found to be defamation in a court of law. However, the proposed changes to Section 230 may benefit defamation victims as one of the “carve-outs” includes removing content that is illegal and speaks to defamation specifically.
No decisions have been made yet and if there are any, it will likely depend on the result of the upcoming election as President Trump has been pushing for the change for years.
More updates to come as they are announced.
If you need legal counsel removing defamatory content online, get in contact with one of our experienced defamation attorneys. It’s our reputation to restore yours.