Hawley: Sec. 230 Is Unwarranted Sweetheart Deal

Source: Sen. Josh Hawley

Source: Sen. Josh Hawley

Sec. 230 has been twisted by Big Tech and the courts into a sweetheart deal for companies like Facebook and Google that Congress never intended. 

President Donald Trump has declared war on the section, which provides websites immunity from civil liability for decisions to remove content from their sites or leaving it up. 

Related: Trump Issues Social Media Order

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), one of Big Tech's biggest critics, has written a white paper stating flatly that the section, in its current twisted form--"unrecognizable from the law that Congress passed"--cannot stand. 

He said that Big Tech treats Sec. 230 as though it were a standalone statute rather than part of a larger bill, the Communications Decency Act, which was expressly designed to impose liability on platforms to keep them safe for children and families. 

He pointed out that court decisions gutted the CDA, but left the immunity provision and stretched it to fit the growing social media giants. The result, he said, was that the Sec. 230 immunity was preserved while the responsibilities from which it had been a carve-out were gone. 

"Section 230, as interpreted today, gives companies immunity for their own bad acts, like purposely designing a platform to monetize illegal content, taking down content in bad faith, or encouraging illegal acts. The “Good Samaritan” statute has been expanded to protect many bad actors," he writes.

The President had signaled that some action was coming on social media. He had cited among other things Twitter's flagging and tagging of his tweets that mail-in ballots were bogus and an effort to rig the upcoming election, as well as Google's admission that it had been deleting Chinese-language phrases critical of the Chinese Communist Party (Google said it was a mistake being corrected).

Hawley had the President's back, writing Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey suggesting that if Twitter were going to editorialize on the President's tweets, it should not get Sec. 230 immunity. 

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.