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Big Tech Defends Sec. 230 From Anticipated Hill Hits

Capitol Hill
(Image credit: Architect of the Capitol)

Concerned that a March 25 Big Tech hearing may be a chance for legislators to beat up on web platforms' Sec. 230 immunity from civil liability over third party content, computer companies wanted the House Energy & Commerce Committee leadership to know the implications of weakening or eliminating the protection.

They argue the section has allowed the internet to flourish and, in the process, develop content moderation policies that protect consumers and speech. Narrowing or eliminating the shield would lead to more disinformation, and cost millions of jobs and over $400 billion.

Also Read: Senate Democrats Target Sec. 230

That came in a letter from Arthur Sidney, VP of public policy for the Computer & Communications Industry Association to those committee leaders in advance of the hearing titled, "Disinformation Nation: Social Media’s Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation." 

It also comes as both Democrats and Republicans have said Sec. 230 needs reining-in or scrapping. Supporters of the latter have included President Joe Biden.

Sidney says Sec. 230 "facilitates legal certainty regarding online commerce and communication, making it possible for millions of entrepreneurs and businesses to flourish."

He argued that responsible services already aggressively moderate harmful content with a mix of automated and human reviews. He also said that nothing is preventing states or the feds to pursue content that violates civil rights laws.

He signaled that getting rid of Sec. 230 would eliminate the kind of moderation that prevents "racism and hate speech, religious and ethnic intolerance, public health-related misinformation, and election-related disinformation by foreign agents."

"Services can respond aggressively to this material because they have the legal certainty to do so," he said. "Narrowing this protection would have the perverse result of impeding online services’ and websites’ efforts to police bad actors and misconduct, including key consumer protections that users have come to expect, such as spam filtering."

Sec. 230 critics counter that such content is not being aggressively moderated, by which they mean prevented, and that the section's shield from liability for that insufficient moderation is to blame.

Also Read: CCIA Warns FCC Against Sec. 230 Rulemaking

But the cost is more than insufficiently moderated speech, he suggested. "The certainty provided by this [Sec. 230] framework reduces the threat of costly, likely ruinous litigation, enabling small U.S. businesses and startups to scale up. Undermining foundational intermediary liability protections could cost an estimated 4.25 million American jobs and $400 billion over the next decade, according to 2017 research."

CCIA members include Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.