Shortly after a slew of President Donald Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol last week, their social media accounts were suspended by big tech companies like Twitter and Facebook for their role in alleged incitement to violence and dissemination of disinformation.
- The incident sparked renewed debate over Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, the controversial internet law that allowed these tech companies to loosen their powers and ban the president in the first place.
- Over the years, reform of Section 230 has been a bipartisan issue, with Democrats and Republicans calling for its amendment, if not repeal.
- President Trump himself has harshly criticized the law, which prevents tech companies from being responsible for what users post online.
- President-elect Joe Biden has also criticized the law and has even offered to repeal it entirely. But while the law is widely criticized, most agree that ensuring a relatively free, secure and open Internet is essential.
What is section 230?
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was passed in 1996 and grants legal immunity to Internet companies for content shared on their websites. The law was first introduced to regulate online pornography. Section 230 is an amendment to the law, which holds users accountable for their comments and posts online.
- According to the regulation, “No provider or user of an interactive computing service should be treated as the publisher or broadcaster of any information provided by another provider of information content.”
- This means that online businesses, including social media platforms, are not responsible for content shared on their website by their users.
- Therefore, if a user posts something illegal on the website, the company is protected from legal action. In addition, the regulation also establishes that private companies have the right to remove content that violates their guidelines and values.
- So the big tech companies were within their rights when they decided to suspend Trump’s accounts.
- The legislation was drafted by Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and South Carolina Republican Congressman Chris Cox more than two decades ago to encourage tech startups and protect free speech, inscribed in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
- U.S. The international digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation calls Section 230 “important law protecting speech on the Internet.”
What does this have to do with the Capitol site?
Shortly after a violent mob of supporters of United States President Donald Trump stormed the historic United States Capitol building last Wednesday, the guilty finger was pointed at on social media platforms and online forums, where right-wing extremists openly planned the attack for weeks.
- The posts, in which supporters of the US president described how they would break into the Capitol, raised questions about why violent content is often unregulated on social media sites.
- In the face of mounting backlash, Facebook, Twitter and Google have begun cracking down on social media users who share incendiary content online.
- From the time Google suspended the pro-Trump Speak social media site, to President Trump’s ban on nearly every major social media platform, the big tech companies have neglected nothing. The reason they were able to respond to the incident so quickly and so ferociously is due in large part to Section 230, as it protects these companies from future lawsuits.
Why is section 230 widely criticized?
While the regulation has far-reaching implications for social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, critics are quick to point out that it was passed before social media existed in its current form. Political leaders and internet activists have long called for the law to be updated.
- The most conservative critics of the regulation argue that it in fact allows big technologies to engage in politically partisan activities. Republican lawmakers, including Trump, have alleged that platforms like Twitter
Why is section 230 widely criticized?
Although the regulation has far-reaching consequences for social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, critics are quick to point out that it was passed before social media existed in its current form. Political leaders and internet activists have long called for the law to be updated.
- Most conservative critics of the regulation claim that it does indeed allow big tech to engage in politically partisan activity. Republican lawmakers, including Trump, have alleged that platforms like Twitter and Facebook display a clear bias against conservative voices and often abuse Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to censor right-wing users .
- On the other hand, some argue that the law allows websites like 4chan and Parler, used by many right-wing extremists, to refrain from moderating hate speech and violent content, whether derogatory or vile.
- In an interview with the New York Times last year, President-elect Joe Biden called for the regulation to be “repealed, immediately” because it has helped tech companies spread “lies they know to be false”.
- “For my part, I think we should consider removing [Facebook’s] exemption that they cannot be prosecuted for knowingly participating in the promotion of something that is not true,” he said in a previous interview with CNN.
- Websites have also faced backlash for the content they choose to moderate. For example, in 2014, Facebook was widely criticized for its inconsistent nudity rules when it took a photo of a mother breastfeeding her premature baby.
Did Trump try to change the law?
In May 2020, President Trump issued an executive order aimed at legal protection for tech companies under Section 230. He took the step after Twitter began labeling his tweets as a vote-by-mail disinformation.
- In response, the president alleged that social media platforms were selectively censoring content as part of a larger conspiracy to “rig the elections” against him.
- Trump’s order asked regulators to reassess Section 230’s definition and ordered agencies to gather complaints of political bias on social media platforms that could help revoke his statutory immunity.
- After Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election, he went further and called for the regulation to be repealed entirely.
- Last month he threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual defense bill that authorizes billions in military spending, unless Congress agrees to repeal it entirely. article 23.
“Section 230, which is a gift of liability protection from the United States to ‘Big Tech’ (the only companies in America to have it, corporate welfare!), Is a serious threat to our national security and electoral integrity. Our country can never be safe and secure if we let it stand… ”Trump tweeted late last month.
“the very dangerous and unfair section 230 is not completely removed as part of the [NDAA], I will be obliged to unequivocally VETO the bill when it is sent to the beautiful Resolute office”.He added that if
Trump claimed Section 230 facilitates the spread of foreign disinformation online. However, members of Congress were quick to applaud Trump, saying the NDAA had little to do with social media businesses.