DOJ Favors Withdrawing Section 230’s Immunity for Big Tech

The Justice Department recommended, in a 25-page report, that lawmakers repeal portions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which has given website operators broad immunity for what people post on their services. The proposed repeal would take away that immunity, forcing social media platforms and similar sites to be responsible for the videos, words, images posted by their users, while assuring that their moderation is consistent. The DOJ’s recommendation will have to be enacted by Congress.

The New York Times reports that the move to change Section 230 is bipartisan; last month President Trump “signed an executive order to limit protections for online platforms” and Joe Biden has criticized it in the past. In its report, the DOJ noted that the size of the Big Tech companies “has raised valid questions of whether [they] still require the blanket immunity of Section 230 provided to the nascent Internet industry.”

The agency completed a 10-month investigation into “online platforms and their record on monitoring and ridding sites of harmful content, including child exploitation and pornography.”

NYT notes that, earlier this year, Attorney General William Barr “instructed his staff to review Section 230, which was created to help encourage the growth of Internet startups … [and] in February … held a daylong workshop focused on how to revise the law.” “No longer are tech companies the underdog upstarts,” Barr said. “They have become titans of U.S. industry.”

The Justice Department concurred and proposed “reforms that would bar the biggest tech platforms from using Section 230 speech protections in its defense in antitrust cases.”

Should the proposal pass, Big Tech companies would be faced with “civil lawsuits for posts with illegal and harmful content,” especially for “the most egregious content online, such as child exploitation and abuse, terrorist content and cyberstalking.”

It would also “put greater scrutiny on the moderation of content,” the focus of Trump and other Republicans who have “accused Twitter, Google and Facebook of suppressing and removing the materials of conservative public figures and media outlets.”

Among widespread Big Tech criticism, Carl Szabo, vice president of tech lobbying organization NetChoice said, “this is a coordinated attack by the administration against tech businesses to sidestep the First Amendment.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that, “several American civil-rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP, are encouraging big advertisers to pull spending from Facebook to protest what they say is the company’s failure to make its platform a less-hostile place.” The campaign “comes after years of private discussions between these groups and Facebook,” which, said activists have “amounted to little change.”

On Wednesday, the group took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times urging “all businesses to stand in solidarity with our most deeply held American values of freedom, equality and justice and not advertise on Facebook’s services in July.”