A section of a 1996 bill—part of the Communications Decency Act—has a received a lot of attention lately, mainly driven by President Trump threatening to veto the $741 billion Defense bill unless it was immediately removed. On December 23, he followed through on this citing the bill, “facilitates the spread of foreign disinformation online, which is a serious threat to our national security.” However, only days later, Congress overwhelmingly voted to override Trump’s veto–the first this has happened during his term.
One of the unusual things about Section 230 (as it is often referred to without even referencing the larger legislation that contains it) is that it has been attacked for years by leaders from across the political spectrum, for different reasons. In fact, President-elect Joe Biden said earlier this year that “Section 230 should be revoked, immediately.” The protection it provides to tech companies against liability for the content posted to their platforms has been portrayed as unfair, especially when content moderation policies are applied by companies in ways that their opponents view as inconsistent, biased, or self-serving.
So is it possible to abolish Section 230? Would that be a good idea? Doing so would certainly have immediate consequences, since from a purely technical standpoint, it’s not really feasible for social media platforms to operate in their present manner without some form of Section 230 protection. Platforms cannot do a perfect job of policing user-generated content because of the sheer volume of content there is to analyze: YouTube alone gets more than 500 hours of new videos uploaded every minute.