Repealing Section 230 Would Be Devastating to Free Expression Online

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The Trump administration is pressing for a repeal of the tech industry’s liability-limiting statute, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, as a part of a must-pass defense bill, according to reports.

CEI Associate Director of the Center for Technology and Innovation, Jessica Melugin reacted: “Republicans will regret dismantling Section 230. Senate hearings on the topic have been heavy on political theater, but light on serious policy discussion. The practical consequence of repealing Section 230 will be more, not less, third-party content taken down by online platforms as their liability is extended to anything posted on their site. That’s the opposite of what conservatives who feel discriminated against by ‘big tech’ say they want.”

While both sides of the aisle have their gripes with the current state on content moderation online, they have opposite complaints. The left thinks too much “misinformation” is left up, distorting election results. The right thinks that too much of their content is being erroneously labeled as misinformation, hate speech, or dangerous in some way and is either pejoratively labeled or removed.

Melugin continued, “If Senate Republicans make this deal, they’ll be handing a victory to the left whether they realize it or not. As private property, these platforms will still enjoy First Amendment protections from being forced to carry speech and will continue to moderate content. But being potentially liable for the content from third parties will create an incentive to remove more content and likely result in increased litigation. That’s good news for the plaintiff’s bar, but bad news for small and nascent platforms unable to bear the legal costs.”

“Section 230 is too misunderstood and critical to the healthy functioning of speech online to be thrown away as a political pawn. New platforms offering alternative content standards, including ones popular on the right like Parler, will find it much harder to succeed without the same liability shield the already-established platforms benefitted from in their infancy,” she concluded.    

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