The Biden administration’s push to weed out COVID-19 misinformation online is spotlighting calls to reform Section 230, while further highlighting the deep partisan divide among lawmakers’ approaches to modify the law that provides tech companies a liability shield.
Critical comments against Facebook made by President BidenJoe BidenKentucky lawmaker faces scrutiny for comparing Fauci to Jonestown cult leader Omar leads lawmakers in calling for US envoy to combat Islamophobia Public charter schools group blasts proposed Democratic cut MORE and action taken by Twitter against a controversial lawmaker this week raised the pressure on big tech companies already on defense over their content policies, but also showcased the opposing reasons both parties are concerned.
Biden in recent days joined congressional Democrats’ efforts to press social media companies to take action against misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines. But amid the administration’s push, Republicans are piling on criticism of the Silicon Valley giants and the government-led effort to hold them accountable.
Twitter temporarily suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene
Greene does not appear to have posted the same or similar false claims about the coronavirus on Facebook as she did on Twitter that led to her 12-hour suspension.
Meanwhile, Biden on Monday walked back his blunt accusation Friday that Facebook is “killing people” with misinformation about the virus, but continued to press the platform to “do something about the misinformation, the outrageous misinformation about the vaccine.”
A battle is brewing in Washington with both major parties using the tech platform’s supposed removal of misinformation, or lack thereof, to push for an overhaul of a controversial law that provides the platforms a legal liability shield over content posted by third parties. The cross-purposes of the two parties could mean any efforts to reform the law won’t go far, especially in the 50-50 Senate where at least 60 votes are needed to advance most legislation.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides the liability shield, has come under attack by both parties in recent years — albeit for different reasons.
Republicans have centered their push for Section 230 repeal and reform around unsubstantiated claims that tech platforms are censoring content with an anti-conservative bias.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn
“These revelations are deeply concerning. The blatant actions by your administration to work with big tech companies to censor Americans’ free speech are shocking,” Blackburn wrote.
Sen. Mike Lee
“They’re a private for-profit corporation that can make its own decisions, but when it’s doing it with collusion in government it looks to me a lot like a First Amendment violation,” Lee said last week on Fox News.
In the House, Section 230 reform is listed as a top priority in tech agendas laid out by Judiciary Committee ranking member Jim Jordan
Rodgers slammed the White House’s efforts last week, tweeting: “The answer to speech you may disagree with is always more speech, not less. That is the American way.”
Jordan’s agenda released earlier this month calls for a “statutory basis” for Americans to challenge tech platforms in court for “censorship and silencing of conservatives.”
Similarly, former President Trump
The basis of the argument, that the removal of such content is a violation of the First Amendment, misapplies the right to private companies, and legal experts say the suit will almost certainly be dismissed.
Democrats differ from their GOP colleagues by calling for Section 230 reform in a way that aims to hold the companies more accountable to crack down on certain third party content.
Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar
Klobuchar used the debate around how platforms are handling coronavirus misinformation, following the surgeon general’s advisory on health misinformation last week, to boost the bill.
“I think we also should look at changing the liability standards when it comes to vaccine misinformation. Senator Warner and Hirono and I already introduced a bill that would focus on discriminatory content and the like,” she said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Facebook has defended its policies against the criticism of vaccine misinformation. A spokesperson for the platform said “more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook,” and more than 3.3 million Americans have used its vaccine finder tool.
But there are at least 284 public and private anti-vaccine Facebook groups spreading COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories, according to a report published Tuesday by the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters. The groups had more than 520,000 combined members, based on the report.
A spokesperson for Facebook said the company is “reviewing the report and will take action against groups that violate our policies.”
Trump’s efforts to repeal Section 230 failed before he left office, but the Biden administration has also indicated it’s open to Section 230 reform.
“We’re reviewing that,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield
“They should be held accountable and I think you’ve heard the president speak very aggressively about this. He understands this is an important piece of the ecosystem,” Bedingfield said.
Pressed for more information about the review, a White House official told The Hill: “We are continuing to track the Congressional process to reform Section 230.”
“The President continues to believe that this near-unlimited immunity for platforms must come to an end,” the official said.