Last week, Politico reported that the White House was considering a potential “Executive Order” (EO) to address the ongoing-yet-unproven allegations of pro-liberal, anti-conservative bias by giant Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google. (To the extent that there is rigorous research by AI experts, it shows that social media sites are more likely to flag posts by self-identified African Americans as “hate speech” than identical wording used by whites.) Subsequent reports by CNN and The Verge have provided more detail. Putting the two together, it appears that the Executive Order would require the Federal Communications Commission to create regulations designed to create rules limiting the ability of digital platforms to “remove or suppress content” as well as prohibit “anticompetitive, unfair or deceptive” practices around content moderation. The EO would also require the Federal Trade Commission to somehow open a docket and take complaints (something it does not, at present, do, or have capacity to do – but I will save that hobby horse for another time) about supposed political bias claims.
The previous post was about what Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act does, and why it does it. One theme is that Section 230 is a very broad and powerful statute. But the law can change, and given that digital platforms have a very different role in society and the economy now than they did in 1996, when the law was passed, maybe it should. This post will list some proposals that I am not necessarily endorsing, but which may be worth considering. But before that, it’s also important to realize that Section 230 has limits even under the law today.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes internet platforms from any liability as a publisher or speaker for third-party content -- and is one of the most important and wide-reaching laws that affect the internet. With the increased attention on online platforms in the past few years, it has become one of the most controversial. It’s also widely misunderstood, or misconstrued, both by its supporters and detractors. Much of the discourse around this law has focused on two extremes -- on the one hand, from those who want to defend it at any cost and view it as a general charter against platform regulation, and on the other hand, from those who simply want to repeal it without realizing what the consequences of this could be. At the same time, both the press and politicians tend to either overstate or misunderstand what 230 does.