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Sunsetting Competition: Scrapping Section 230 Would Decimate Small Tech, Discourage Free Speech Online

WASHINGTON—Yesterday, the heads of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ranking Member Frank Pallone Jr., proposed a new bill to sunset Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Doing so would not only have serious ramifications for online speech, but such a proposal would crush small tech companies and startups trying to compete successfully in the industry. 

While the First Amendment protects online services’ right to moderate content as they deem appropriate for their individual businesses, companies still face pressure from greedy trial lawyers. Section 230 does not protect websites if user-generated content on that site breaks federal criminal law—and never has. As such, repealing Section 230 would do little to solve the problems lawmakers are trying to address, while opening the entire industry up to massive litigation efforts by trial attorneys trying to profit off business decisions. The smallest tech companies and startups will suffer the most as they are less able to afford the massive litigation costs to ultimately win such an onslaught. 

Sunsetting Section 230 would discourage online businesses from operating speech platforms that host user generated content out of fear of such litigious efforts. Further, it would encourage government actors to intimidate platforms into making particular moderation decisions, enabling politicians to “jawbone” companies into influencing online speech. The consequences of such a sunset would result in less free, open speech and dialogue by internet users. 

This means Americans lose two-fold if a Section 230 sunset is passed: (1) there will be less competition in the tech sector, and (2) their ability to speak freely online will be significantly curbed. 

“America’s free speech online is under threat, and sunsetting Section 230 is the latest effort to discourage open dialogue on the internet. Already under current Section 230 law, federal criminal acts are not protected, which seems to be Congress’ focus of reform. That means a 230 sunset would do nothing to address these concerns, leaving American free speech and competition to suffer the most,” said Carl Szabo, NetChoice Vice President & General Counsel.

Szabo continued: “To stop bad actors hurting Americans and our families, law enforcement critically needs resources to investigate, prosecute and put digital criminals in prison. Instead of misdiagnosing the problem, undermining online services and harming competition by decimating Section 230, Congress should pass the bipartisan Invest in Child Safety Act and hold the Biden administration accountable for failing to enforce existing laws like the PROTECT Act of 2008. Those steps would produce meaningful change in the problems Congress seeks to address.”

Please contact Krista Chavez at with inquiries.