2020 tech watchers are still reeling, meanwhile, from surprise support from Democratic front-runner Joe Biden for nixing the online liability protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Tech trade group NetChoice rushed to slam Biden’s comments, saying that scrapping the prized provision “would prevent online services from effectively curating content created by users, meaning Biden’s proposal would accomplish the complete opposite of its goal.”
Carl Szabo is with the internet industry trade group, Net Choice.
“Senator Warren has said her health care plan will not increase taxes on the middle class. Many studies have said this is impossible. President Trump announced the border wall will be paid for entirely by Mexico. Should those types of statements be removed?” Szabo said.
Szabo says social media companies usually defer to free speech on their platforms and oppose legislation to put limits on political ads.
“Allow the voters to be the ones to decide whether a statement is true or false,” Szabo said.
Szabo says as the 2020 campaign approaches, he expects calls to regulate political ads to get louder.
Both political parties might find it useful to attack Section 230, but it’s not clear either understands it — or even wants to.
“Section 230 should be revoked,” Joe Biden told the New York Times in an interview published this morning.
This is not the first time the crucial internet law has come under attack by the Democratic presidential front-runner. Back in November, Biden alluded to the law, saying “I, for one, think we should be considering taking away [Facebook’s] exemption that they cannot be sued for knowingly engaged in promoting something that’s not true” (we’ll explain why this is incorrect later).
Conservatives fixated on social media bias are reluctant to appreciate the immeasurable benefit they receive from Section 230. It was never a subsidy to anyone; it applied equally to all (publishers like newspapers get to have websites too). Even if biases on the part of some platforms are deemed valid (in an elemental sense, bias should not be denied and big tech needs to defend it), there is no precedent for the reach conservatives enjoy now. Those who complain of bias on YouTube, for example, pay nothing for the hosting that can reach millions, and stand to profit instead. Some do get “deplatformed,” of course; but if improperly so, that may be a violation of terms by the host resolvable in ways other than altering Sec. 230 with a sledgehammer.
Today, NetChoice voiced support for the SAFE SEX Workers Study Act, introduced by Sens. Warren (D-MA) and Wyden (D-OR) and by Reps. Khanna (D-CA) and Lee (D-CA). The Act would trigger an investigation into the unintended consequences of SESTA/FOSTA.
SESTA/FOSTA amended Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and undermined sensible limits on liability for online services that host user-created content.
“SESTA/FOSTA has harmed vulnerable women across the country, the very community it was crafted to help,” said Carl Szabo, Vice President and General Counsel at NetChoice. “SESTA/FOSTA is the first and only amendment to Section 230, so Congress must understand how much damage SESTA/FOSTA caused before it considers further amendments to Section 230.”
“It is unfortunate that the Sect. 230 language was not taken out,” Rick Lane, a longtime technology policy adviser who has supported overhauling Section 230 told me. “But at least for those of us who believe that changes to CDA Sect. 230 are necessary can take solace in knowing that organizations like CTA and NetChoice have stated unequivocally that inclusion of Section 230 language in trade agreements does not stop the [United States] from changing the law in the future should it choose to do so.”
The Internet Association, Information Technology Industry Council, Semiconductor Industry Association, Computer & Communications Industry Association, BSA | The Software Alliance, the Computing Technology Industry Association, the Consumer Technology Association, NetChoice and TechNet were among the many (many!) industry groups to praise the agreement Tuesday. Amazon also applauded the deal, tweeting that it “breaks new ground on digital trade and cuts red tape for Amazon customers and sellers.”
Today, NetChoice reiterated support for the inclusion of Section 230 language in President Trump’s North American trade agreement, USMCA.
“Speaker Pelosi fights on behalf of vulnerable communities, yet it is these very communities throughout North America that benefit most from access to social media and online marketplaces,” said Carl Szabo, Vice President and General Counsel at NetChoice.
“The inclusion of Section 230 language in the USMCA is a win-win for all signatories. Consumers gain access to an abundance of online content, and businesses can connect directly to customers using e-commerce marketplaces and social media marketing.”
NetChoice has also published a piece titled “Section 230 Should be in Our Trade Agreements. Here’s Why.” which covers the various reasons that inclusion of digital intermediary liability protections are vital for modern trade agreements.
“The inclusion of Section 230 language in the USMCA is a win-win for all signatories,” says Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for NetChoice, an advocacy group that favors the inclusion of online liability protections in trade deals. “Consumers gain access to an abundance of online content, and businesses can connect directly to customers using e-commerce marketplaces and social media marketing.”
When Twitter announced its recent ban on political advertising, the Trump campaign leveled heavy criticism at the platform, suggesting in an official statement that walking away from “hundreds of millions of dollars of potential revenue” was “a dumb decision for their stockholders.” And when Facebook recently rejected a blanket ban on political ads, actor Sacha Baron Cohen made headlines for proclaiming that the platform would have agreed to run ads for the Nazis (something a look at Facebook’s community standards quickly proves wrong).