Free Press: Biden Blows It on Sec. 230

Free Press said former Vice President and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has it all wrong when it comes to what should be online social media sites' copyright liability.

Biden said in an interview with the New York Times Friday (Jan. 17) that Sec. 230 of the Communications Decency Act should be revoked. “It should be revoked because [Facebook] is not merely an internet company,” Biden told the paper according to Free Press. “It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false...” The section holds web sites harmless for third party content posted on their sites and allows them to moderate content, including taking it down if it violates the law or their content policies. It was meant to spur the growth of the web as a minimally policed neutral public square.

Free Press Action senior policy counsel Gaurav Laroia said the Vice President is right to be concerned about the power of Big Tech, including surveillance and tracking systems that violate privacy. "But he has it wrong in almost every way when it comes to his criticism of Section 230," Laroia said. “Repealing Section 230 as Biden recommends would return us to the world of the early and mid ’90s, when the law gave internet companies a choice — either allow nearly all speech and posts, including hate speech and falsehoods, with few rules and nearly no moderation, or assume editorial and legal responsibility for every single post or utterance on their sites." Tech platforms have said the latter is an existential threat to their business models.

Related: Tech's Sec. 230 Sweetheart Deal Must End

But an increasing number of Democrats--Free Press's traditional allies on internet issues as well as Republicans--are questioning whether online giants should retain such a copyright carveout, including the author of Sec. 230, Colorado Sen. Ron Wyden.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), for example, tried unsuccessfully to exclude Sec. 230 language from the just-passed USMCA trade deal given those concerns.

John Eggerton

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.