March 09, 2021
That is the takeaway readers of this piece on efforts to reform Section 230 would likely get. Section 230 is the provision of the Communications Decency Act, which protects Internet intermediaries from liability for third-party content. While the New York Times or CNN could get sued if they ran an ad or ran a letter or commentary that defamed an individual or corporation, because of Section 230, Facebook would face no risk from carrying the same material. Repealing Section 230 would mean that Facebook would be subject to the same liability rules as its print and broadcast competitors. (Here’s my longer discussion of the issue.)
While the piece begins by noting that both Trump and Biden called for the repeal of Section 230, there is no one cited in the piece who advocates this position. It does include a quote from Representative Anna G. Eshoo telling readers:
“When someone says eliminate Section 230, the first thing it says to me is that they don’t really understand it.”
People who can remember back to the 2020 election may recall appeals to Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey to take steps to limit the amount of disinformation spread over Facebook and Twitter. Both of them actually did make efforts to block false claims from being carried over their networks. However, they had no legal obligation to do so. If, for example, someone decided to spend a billion dollars on ads asserting that Joe Biden was a pedophile, Mark Zuckerberg would have every legal right to pocket the cash.
Apparently, Representative Eshoo thinks it is fine to have a political system that relies on the goodwill of billionaires, but people who believe in democracy are troubled by this, and many of them do know what they are talking about.