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Congress Shouldn’t End the Internet’s Sunrise With a Section 230 “Sunset” Repeal

WASHINGTON—This morning, the House Energy & Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on a new proposal to “sunset” Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Make no mistake, this so-called “sunset” is merely a repeal in sheep’s clothing, which will have serious, negative consequences for online speech and the entire technology industry—especially for startups and small competitors. 

To be clear: if a Section 230 ‘sunset’ (repeal) is passed, Americans will lose in two serious ways. First, there will be less competition in the tech sector without Section 230. Second, our ability to speak freely online will be substantially curbed. Congress should not be playing politics with a key pillar of the Internet,” said Carl Szabo, NetChoice Vice President & General Counsel. 

Szabo continued: “We share lawmakers’ concerns about bad actors and criminals trying to harm people online. And there are various, targeted rules that NetChoice supports to tackle these issues, including many existing laws that regulators should enforce. However, repealing Section 230 will do nothing to solve these problems, and doing so will leave a litany of real, harmful unintended consequences for Americans trying to use internet services.” 

While the First Amendment protects online services that host user-generated content with the right to moderate that content as they deem appropriate for their companies, there is still significant outside pressure from government officials, interest groups and greedy trial lawyers trying to influence moderation decisions in their favor. 

One particular lawsuit brought the seriousness of this concern into reality, gleaned from “The Wolf of Wall Street.” This 2013 movie depicted the real-life story of Jordan Belfort, whose New York stock brokerage firm, Stratton Oakmont, was eventually exposed as a massive fraud operation. But shortly before the firm was shut down for such fraud, it sued the popular online platform, Prodigy. A user had posted on Prodigy that Stratton Oakmont was a “cult of brokers who either lie for a living or get fired.” Despite the (eventually-proven) accuracy of this statement, Stratton Oakmont sued Prodigy for libel, seeking hundreds of millions in damages, just for hosting the user’s post on their website—and Stratton Oakmont won a settlement. 

This case showed the real legal nightmare for websites hosting user-generated content. To remedy this, former Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote and successfully passed Section 230. 

A key piece of misinformation is that this law is a get out of jail free card for tech, but NetChoice encourages those critics to read the text of the law. Section 230 does not protect websites if user-generated content on that site breaks federal criminal law—and never has. Repealing Section 230 would not actually solve those problems, while not making a single American “safer” and opening the entire industry up to massive litigation efforts by profiteers, as the Prodigy case itself shows so well. Sadly, the smallest tech innovators and startups will suffer the most as they are less able to afford the massive litigation costs.   

This “sunset” (repeal) will crush the vibrancy of speech online. As Cox and Wyden write in a new op-ed at The Wall Street Journal: “In the brave new world of unlimited liability, will a website decide that carrying user-created content free of charge isn’t worth the risk? If so, the era of consumer freedom to both publish and view web content will come to a screeching halt.”

You can read NetChoice’s letter to the Committee here and Rep. Cox and Sen. Wyden’s new op-ed in The Wall Street Journal here

Please contact Krista Chavez at with inquiries.