The law, known as Section 230, shields internet companies from liability for content posted by their users. Both Republicans and Democrats have targeted the law as the social networks crack down on misinformation and other content. Republicans allege the tech firms censor conservative speech and therefore shouldn’t have the protections. The companies have repeatedly denied the allegations. Democrats say the companies aren’t doing enough to curb the spread of misinformation and hate speech.
“We should also be mindful that undermining Section 230 will result in far more removal of online speech and impose severe limitations on our collective ability to address harmful content and protect people online,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says in prepared testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee.
Twitter released Dorsey’s remarks on Tuesday, the day before he’s scheduled to appear beside Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai to testify about the law, which is considered foundational to free expression on the internet. Dorsey says Americans want to trust the services they use but don’t want less free speech.
Regulation, Dorsey says in the testimony, “can further entrench companies that have large market shares and can easily afford to scale up additional resources to comply.”
Zuckerberg has a different view on regulation and has said before that he supports new rules, including some around content moderation. The debate about Section 230, he said in his prepared remarks, “shows that people of all political persuasions are unhappy with the status quo.”
“Section 230 made it possible for every major internet service to be built and ensured important values like free expression and openness were part of how platforms operate,” Zuckerberg’s remarks say, according to a copy Facebook provided to CNET. “Changing it is a significant decision. However, I believe Congress should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended.”
Section 230 is a provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.
Pichai will tell the committee that the internet is one of the “word’s most important equalizers” but will say there are trade-offs that come with its power. “Information can be shared — and knowledge can flow — from anyone, to anywhere,” he’ll say in prepared testimony, according to a copy provided to CNET. “But the same low barriers to entry also make it possible for bad actors to cause harm.”
Section 230, Pichai will argue, is “foundational” to America’s leadership in the tech industry.
“As you think about how to shape policy in this important area, I would urge the Committee to be very thoughtful about any changes to Section 230 and to be very aware of the consequences those changes might have on businesses and consumers,” his remarks say.
Lawmakers eye changes to Section 230
Politicians and lawmakers have different ideas about how to tackle Section 230.
Some lawmakers, including Sens. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, and Rep. Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, want to amend Section 230. Others, such as President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, want to get rid of the protections altogether.
In May, Trump signed an executive order asking for Section 230 to be revisited and giving the Federal Trade Commission responsibility for investigating complaints of political bias stemming from content moderation decisions by social media companies. The Federal Communications Commission is planning to move forward with regulation that would reinterpret Section 230.
He also called for the repeal of Section 230 after Twitter and Facebook took steps to slow the spread of a New York Post article about Biden’s son Hunter.
Separately, Biden told The New York Times in January that Section 230 should be revoked.
Lawmakers from both parties have introduced bills to revise Section 230. Wicker and two other influential Republicans introduced legislation in September that would narrow the scope of the protections under Section 230 to cover the removal of unlawful material, posts that promote terrorism and content that encourages self-harm.
Eshoo and Rep. Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat, introduced a bill in October that would remove legal protections under Section 230 if a company’s algorithm is used to amplify or recommend content that interferes with civil rights or posts involving international terrorism. Sen. Josh Hawley, a vocal critic of Section 230 and a Republican from Missouri, has introduced several bills on the issue including one that would allow Americans to sue tech companies that censor political speech.
The Senate Commerce Committee hearing is scheduled to start Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT.