Democrat warns tech companies to ‘step up in big way’ or risk Section 230 changes
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) warned tech companies on Thursday to take greater action on content moderation or risk changes to a landmark law that provides the companies a legal liability shield over content posted on their platforms by third parties.
“It’s obvious that [Section] 230 we’ll look at,” Thompson said, referring to the law during a hearing on the threat of domestic terrorism. “If the companies don’t assume the interest in policing their own platforms, then you leave government no choice.”
“So for those companies that might be listening to this hearing, it’s absolutely essential that they step up in a big way, because obviously from a question and responses there’s interest on the right and left — Democrat and Republican — that we have to look at it. And I assure you as chair we will,” he added.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has come under fire from both sides of the aisle over social media platforms’ content moderation policies.
Democrats have widely ramped up scrutiny over platforms’ handling of misinformation and hate speech since the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Posts on some major and fringe platforms were identified as being used to organize the riot, as well as to amplify false claims that the election results were fraudulent.
Republicans have also issued calls to reform or repeal Section 230. Former President Trump sought to repeal the law through executive action, but his plans were abandoned shortly before he left office due to time constraints.
Republicans’ push to reform the law largely lies in unsubstantiated claims that social media platforms are censoring content with an anti-conservative bias. The argument has been amplified since Twitter and Facebook took action to ban Trump after the riot.
A report released by New York University earlier this week found the bias claims were not backed by any evidence and were in themselves a form of disinformation.
Despite some disagreements on reasoning, there may be a chance for bipartisan support for a version of Section 230 reform as Thompson signaled during Thursday’s hearing.
The Biden administration has also indicated it may be open to amending the law.
During his presidential campaign, President Biden said the law should be revoked, but he has largely not detailed plans moving forward.
Biden’s nominee to serve as secretary of Commerce, current Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), also said last week during a Senate confirmation hearing that the law needs some reform. She advanced to a Senate-wide vote in a bipartisan 21-3 commerce committee vote on Wednesday.
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