Greene offers bill to abolish Section 230
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on Thursday is introducing a bill to abolish Section 230 — the law the protects online platforms from liability — on the heels of Twitter accepting Elon Musk’s offer to buy the company and take it private.
Greene’s bill would eliminate the law making online platforms not liable for content posted by third parties and replace it with a provision to require “reasonable, non-discriminatory access to online communications platforms” through a “common carrier” framework that Greene compared to airlines or package delivery services.
Republicans have long claimed that social media platforms have an anti-conservative bias, pointing to tweets that have been taken down and the removal of entire feeds from networks.
The most prominent Republican who has seen his feeds taken down is former President Trump, who was permanently banned from Twitter after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, which led to his impeachment for instigating the chaos. Trump was not convicted in the Senate, though every Democrat and seven Republicans voted to convict.
Greene’s personal Twitter account was permanently suspended in January after she repeatedly violated the platform’s policy on misinformation relating to COVID-19, though her official congressional account remains active.
Tech companies have disputed the arguments that they have a bias against conservatives, and right-wing Facebook pages regularly have top-performing posts on the nation’s most used social media platform.
A February report from New York University found that the claims of a bias are not backed by evidence, saying that “no trustworthy large-scale studies have determined that conservative content is being removed for ideological reasons or that searches are being manipulated to favor liberal interests.”
Titled the 21st Century FREE Speech Act, Greene’s measure will serve as the House version of a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.).
To combat the alleged bias against conservatives, it would prevent online communications platforms from exerting “undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person, class of persons, political or religious group or affiliation, or locality” and would provide consumers a mechanism to sue for violations.
It would allow providers to restrict access to lewd and obscene material like pornography, excessively violent content, harassing content and unlawful content. Companies would be required to disclose their content moderation policies to users.
Greene cast the legislation as protecting Twitter under Musk, who has said he wants to combat censorship and has been cheered on by the right as he has moved to take over the company.
“If Elon Musk actually does what he’s setting out to do, this actually will protect him,” Greene told The Hill in an interview. “It’ll stop any type of overarching intervention that will force him to limit people’s free speech, whether it’s the Biden administration or some other bill that becomes law.”
While Greene has warred with Twitter, she thinks her bill will affect other social media platforms more.
“I think it’ll affect Facebook drastically. We already know what Facebook engaged in, especially through the 2020 election, covering up the Hunter Biden laptop story, the New York Post story,” Greene said, adding that YouTube is “very guilty” as well. “They’ve kicked tons of people off.”
Unlike Twitter, Facebook did not fully block the link to the New York Post’s October 2020 story on Hunter Biden’s laptop. But Facebook said that it reduced the story’s distribution on the platform.
Greene, who was stripped of her committee assignments soon after being sworn into office last year over posts about conspiracy theories and liking a Facebook comment that called for the assassination of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was making plans to introduce the bill before Musk announced plans to buy Twitter.
After her personal Twitter account was permanently banned, she said she spent a lot of time evaluating various bills that aim to take on Big Tech companies and thought Hagerty’s bill was most effective. Musk’s move to buy Twitter caused her to speed up the process, she said.
“Elon Musk buying Twitter and talking about defending free speech has ramped up the Democrats’ efforts to want to clamp down on speech. And so that made me realize, you know, that I need to introduce this now,” Greene said.
Greene said that she did not think the bill would shutter smaller social media companies by making them more open to lawsuits with its elimination of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
“Small companies can definitely get started. They can survive,” Greene said.
“Social media would be a common carrier very much like FedEx or the airlines where no matter who you are, you can buy a plane ticket and then fly somewhere,” she said.
The bill’s introduction marks a shift into more serious policy for the firebrand Georgia congresswoman. Other bills and resolutions led by Greene include articles of impeachment against President Biden, a resolution to remove Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Ca.) from the House, a bill to “stop the spread of taxpayer-funded bioweapons” and a bill to fire Anthony Fauci. She has co-sponsored 132 other bills.
Hagerty welcomed Greene for leading the bill in the House.
“These Big Tech platforms are the modern day public square, which is why the 21st Century FREE Speech Act would treat them as common carriers who must provide reasonable, nondiscriminatory access to all users. I’m pleased to have Representative Greene’s partnership in this effort to put the American people back in charge of what they say or hear online,” Hagerty said in a statement.
Greene said that the bill would still allow companies to remove content deemed to be harassment, noting that she has been on the receiving end of such messages.
“Social media, unfortunately, is a place where people feel powerful to say things behind the keyboard that they probably would never say to someone’s face, they certainly shouldn’t say at all. So that is — it’s unfortunate,” Greene said.
Her bill introduction also comes days after The New York Times published audio from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaking to other House GOP leaders in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack in which he wondered whether social media companies could take away Republican members’ accounts.
“It’s hurtful to hear things said about social media because I believe in free speech and no one should lose their social media account. None of us did anything wrong,” Greene said of McCarthy’s comments.
But she acknowledged that McCarthy’s office has helped her in trying to reinstate her Twitter account.