Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (“Section 230“) is a statute that has provided tech platforms immunity from legal liability for third-party content posted on their website. Section 230 has been recognized as one of the most important pieces of internet legislation in the world and is the foundation of free speech online. Section 230 has allowed tech platforms to boom, specifically in the US. Tech giants, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, have been able to become billion-dollar corporations because of Section 230’s broad immunity.
While Section 230 has been great for tech platforms, it has come under fire recently. Both political parties have found issues with Section 230. Democrats say large tech companies should moderate their websites more aggressively, in hopes of curtailing hate speech and misinformation. On the other hand, Republicans argue that large tech companies are biased against conservative viewpoints and only moderate conservative content. Gone are the times when underdog tech companies were trying to stay afloat. Now, tech companies are some of, if not, the biggest players in the game. Congress knows this. This has led to Congress investigating Section 230 and its impact on today’s tech-heavy world, and also considering possible changes.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (the “Committee”) held a four-hour hearing on October 28, 2020, to investigate whether Section 230 has “outlived its usefulness in today’s digital age.” The Committee issued subpoenas to Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sundar Pichai, who are Twitter’s CEO, Facebook’s CEO, and Google’s CEO, respectively.
All three CEOs testified remotely about the importance of Section 230. Dorsey testified that Section 230 allowed companies to grow and expand. Without Section 230, Dorsey believes only the wealthiest tech companies will survive. Zuckerberg’s approach to Section 230 seems to be more of a, “take this out of my hands, please!” He testified that the government should take a more active role in regulating tech companies. Nevertheless, Zuckerburg reiterated how important Section 230 is to online publishers, but he feels Congress needs to update the law. Lastly, Sundar Pichai testified that Section 230 is essential. He believes Section 230 is the great equalizer. It allows people to post their opinions, no matter what those opinions are.
Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed an interest in amending Section 230. However, there will need to be many more Congressional hearings to fully analyze, understand, and execute any amendments to Section 230. Without an extremely thorough investigation and analysis of any consequences that come from amending Section 230, any amendment could rock the online world and stifle online discourse for years.