President Donald Trump
Carlos Barria | Reuters
President Donald Trump is putting pressure on his Republican allies over a law that has protected social media companies for decades.
In his final weeks in office, Trump launched a sweeping attack on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects tech companies from being held responsible for what users post on their platforms.
Trump wants Section 230 to be gone. He has linked the issue with the passage of a major annual defense spending bill and, more recently, the prospect of approving an increase in coronavirus relief checks from $ 600 to $ 2,000.
“If the Republicans don’t have a death wish, and if it’s the right thing to do, they have to approve the $ 2,000 payments as soon as possible. $ 600 is not enough!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.
“Get rid of Section 230, too – Don’t let Big Tech steal our country or let the Democrats steal the presidential election. Get tough!” he wrote.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle – including President-elect Joe Biden – have made complaints about Section 230 and some have taken steps to reform the provision. But there is little appetite on Capitol Hill to immediately repeal, much less add such a repeal to the $ 740 billion defense bill or the latest pandemic relief laws.
Here’s what you should know about Section 230 and where it is:
How it started
Section 230 was drafted by former Rep. Chris Cox, R-Calif., And Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Following a 1995 court ruling against the Prodigy online service.
This company was sued for defamation after an anonymous user accused an investment firm of fraud on its platform. The court ruled that since Prodigy was moderating some of the posts on the platform, it should be treated like a publisher.
Cox and Wyden, who disagreed with this decision, introduced Section 230 to protect tech companies from becoming legally liable for their users’ content if they chose to moderate it. The law allows companies to participate in the “Good Samaritan” moderation of material without being treated like a publisher or speaker under the law.
How it goes
More than two decades later, the prospect of Section 230 repeal is likely to be a deal breaker for many lawmakers.
In countless discussions about the reform of liability protection, the members largely agreed that some of its protective measures are important for the continued functioning of an open and relatively secure Internet.
For example, the law not only protects tech platforms from being held accountable for their users’ contributions, but also allows them to remove “offensive” messages. While the term is open to the platforms’ interpretations, this part of the law allows companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube to quickly remove news of terrorism, violence, or self-harm without fear of a misjudgment bringing them into trouble .
And while conservatives aim to have fewer restrictions placed on their posts, the removal of Section 230 could result in even more restrictions. Without the liability cover, platforms could be encouraged to review more content before it can be uploaded.
Some Democrats have also resented the law. Biden disliked Section 230 and told the New York Times in January that tech platforms like Facebook should “be removed immediately.” However, this means seems to go beyond the wishes of many Democrats, which often include placing more responsibility on platforms for moderating bodies, as permitted in Section 230.
“You’re mad on Twitter”
Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images
The National Defense Authorization Act, usually passed with overwhelming support from both parties and veto-proof majorities, is a comprehensive defense law that authorizes $ 740 billion in spending and outlines Pentagon policies.
This year’s legislation includes a 3% pay increase for U.S. troops, a plan to rename military facilities with the names of Confederate leaders, and a number of other provisions. In mid-December, the NDAA passed the House and the GOP-led Senate with veto-safe majorities in both chambers.
Even so, Trump vetoed the bill last week, in large part because of the lack of language to repeal Section 230.
The move put many GOP lawmakers in the uncomfortable position of overriding a possible veto of a Republican president who commands strong support within his party. The House of the Democratic Majority voted to overturn Trump’s veto on Monday and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Stands ready to push a similar vote in his chamber.
Trump, who refuses to admit his loss to Biden in an election where Republicans exceeded expectations, is still putting pressure on his political allies to meet his Section 230 demand.
“Weak and tired Republican ‘leadership’ will allow the bad defense law to be passed,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning.
“Say goodbye to the termination of VITAL Section 230,” he wrote before listing other complaints to the NDAA. “A shameful act of cowardice and total submission of weak people at Big Tech. Negotiate better bill or get better leaders NOW! The Senate shouldn’t approve the NDAA until this is fixed !!!”
The president signed the Coronavirus Ease and Government Spending Act on Sunday. That bill includes $ 600 in direct payments for Americans – but days before it was signed, Trump requested that those payments be increased to $ 2,000.
McConnell in the Senate on Tuesday outlined three priorities Trump put before Congress in signing this Covid bill: larger direct payments, questions about Section 230, and unfounded concerns about widespread electoral fraud.
“This week the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus,” said McConnell.
It is unclear how these plans will feed into recent negotiations on coronavirus legislation. Legislators on both sides of the aisle had already pushed back Trump’s request after eleven hours to include the repeal of Section 230 in the NDAA, saying it was irrelevant to its passage.
“First, 230 has nothing to do with the military,” Senator Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, told reporters earlier this month.
“We should abolish 230, but you can’t do that in this bill. It’s not part of the bill,” added Inhofe.
“You’re pissed off on Twitter. We all know it. You are ready to veto the Defense Act on anything that has anything to do with your ego and nothing to do with defense,” said Adam Smith, Democrat, and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said after Trump’s veto threat.
Meanwhile, some GOP senators, such as Senator Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) and Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Said they would support Trump’s veto of the NDAA to repeal or reform Section 230.
Last week, Graham wrote on Twitter that he would not vote to override the president’s veto. Graham didn’t vote for the bill for the first time.
In addition, Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation earlier this month ending Section 230 protection by January 1, 2023 unless Congress acts earlier. The draft law is intended to encourage legislators to take action on much-discussed reforms that have not yet reached a consensus. Graham introduced other bills that would change the protection of Section 230 but would not completely revoke it.