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Donald Trump and Joe Biden vs. Facebook and Twitter: Why Section 230 could get repealed in 2021

  • January 05, 2021

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There are exceptions such as federal crimes and intellectual property claims. Also, lawmakers in 2018 chipped away at Section 230 protections by passing a law that makes it easier to sue internet platforms that knowingly aid sex trafficking. 

have become too powerful and need tougher regulation. Both parties are threatening to narrow or repeal Section 230.

Bottom line, they say, social media platforms should be held more accountable for how they police content. But their reasons are very different.

Democrats including president-elect Joe Biden have urged Congress to revise Section 230 to force tech companies to remove hate speech and extremism, election interference and falsehoods. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called Section 230 a gift to Big Tech. “It is not out of the question that that could be removed,” she said in 2019.

Trump and many Republicans, on the other hand, accuse tech companies of censoring conservatives and limiting their reach on social media.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey appears on a monitor behind a stenographer as he testifies remotely during the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing Does Section 230's Sweeping Immunity Enable Big Tech Bad Behavior? on Oct. 28.

A number of bills to hold Facebook, Google and Twitter legally accountable for how they moderate content are circulating in Congress, including the EARN IT Act and the PACT Act. 

However, Jeff Kosseff, an assistant professor of cybersecurity law in the United States Naval Academy’s Cyber Science Department, says it would be challenging for Congress to reach consensus on how to alter Section 230.

“You have two competing views as to what platforms should be doing,” Kosseff, author of “The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet,” told USA TODAY last year. “It’s hard to imagine what would satisfy everyone who is upset with the tech companies.”

If Section 230 were repealed, he says we would see the platforms conduct more moderation, not less, because of the increased risk of their liability for content users’ post. 

Trump supporters say Facebook and Twitter censor them but conservatives still rule social media

Dorsey said the platforms should be more open with users about how content moderation decisions are made and should offer a straightforward way to appeal moderation decisions. He’d also like to see users be able to opt out of algorithms that determine what content they see on the platform.

What’s Trump’s beef with Section 230?

Trump’s attacks on Section 230 intensified in the final weeks of his re-election campaign as social media companies labeled or removed posts they deemed false or misleading or that could cause harm or incite violence.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump are on opposite sides of the vote-by-mail issue.

If anything, the attacks intensified after the election as social media companies flagged the president’s allegations of election rigging and voter fraud. Trump also tried to repeal Section 230 through the National Defense Authorization Act. 

What does Hunter Biden have to do with it?

Charges of anti-conservative bias raged before the presidential election when Facebook and Twitter limited the spread of a New York Post article about Biden’s son Hunter, which cited unverified emails reportedly uncovered by allies of Trump.

Zuckerberg said Facebook throttled the story while it was being fact-checked after warnings from the FBI to be on “heightened alert” about “hack and leak operations” in the final days before the 2020 election.

Twitter initially blocked links to the article, saying the links included people’s personal information and relied on hacked materials, both violations of its policies, but then reversed itself.

Do Facebook and Twitter censor conservatives?

Conservatives have complained for years that social media companies silence the political speech of right-leaning users.

Nine in 10 Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican Party say it’s at least somewhat likely that social media platforms censor political viewpoints they find objectionable, up slightly from 85% in 2018, according to an August report from the Pew Research Center.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law on Online Platforms and Market Power in the Rayburn House office Building, July 29, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Researchers have found no evidence to support GOP grievances that conservative voices are squelched​​​​​. Rather, they say social media algorithms don’t have a political affiliation or party but instead favor content that elicits strong reactions from users. What’s more, studies consistently show that conservative voices and viewpoints dominate the conversation on these platforms.

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