Trump Doubles Down on Need to Roll Back Legal Protections for Tech Companies

Trump Doubles Down on Need to Roll Back Legal Protections for Tech Companies
President Donald Trump, followed by Vice President Mike Pence, left, walks into the briefing room at the White House in Washington, on Nov. 24, 2020. (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)
Janita Kan

President Donald Trump this week renewed his calls to curtail legal protections for internet companies amid allegations of censorship and selective policing of user content.

“For purposes of National Security, Section 230 must be immediately terminated!!!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The president has been vocal over the need to limit or repeal legal liability protections under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act for companies that have engaged in censoring or political conduct. Big tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter have been repeatedly criticized for acting as publishers instead of online platforms for third-party content.

Section 230 largely exempts online platforms from liability for content posted by their users, although they can be held liable for content that violates anti-sex trafficking or intellectual property laws.
The law allows companies to block or screen content “in good faith” if they consider it “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.” The protections, however, weren’t intended to apply to services that act more like publishers than online platforms, Attorney General William Barr said in a speech in May.

Earlier this month, lawmakers confronted Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over allegations of censorship and suppression of information on their platforms during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

In one exchange, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) questioned Dorsey over Twitter’s labeling of posts related to the Nov. 3 election. Dorsey admitted that he was not an expert on voter fraud but defended his company’s warning labels.

“We’re simply linking to a broader conversation so that people have more information,” Dorsey said.

“No you’re not. You put up a page saying, quote, ‘voter fraud of any kind is exceedingly rare in the United States.’ That’s not linking to a broader conversation, that’s taking a disputed policy position, and you’re a publisher when you’re doing that. You’re entitled to take a policy position, but you don’t get to pretend you’re not a publisher and get a special benefit under Section 230 as a result,” Cruz replied.

Leading up to and after the election, Twitter ramped up its policing of posts by the president and other users over claims of voter fraud. In a Nov. 12 update, the social media company said it had applied labels, warnings, and other restrictions to about 300,000 posts from Oct. 27 to Nov. 11 for content that they say are “disputed and potentially misleading. This number represents about 0.2 percent of all U.S. election-related posts published in that time period.

Many of Trump’s posts that argue the existence of voter fraud have been labeled with “This claim about election fraud is disputed.” For example, Twitter labeled Trump’s Nov. 22 post that stated: “In certain swing states, there were more votes than people who voted, and in big numbers. Does that not really matter? Stopping Poll Watchers, voting for unsuspecting people, fake ballots and so much more. Such egregious conduct. We will win!”
The Justice Department (DOJ) urged lawmakers to consider taking up proposals to update section 230 back in October when Twitter began suppressing a series of exposés by the New York Post about the alleged business dealings of Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
“The events of recent days have made reform even more urgent,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote in the letter (pdf) obtained by media outlets. “Today’s large online platforms hold tremendous power over the information and views available to the American people. It is therefore critical that they be honest and transparent with users about how they use that power. And when they are not, it is critical that they can be held accountable.”
The department had introduced a set of proposals that would curtail broad legal protections for online platforms in an effort to push tech companies to address illicit material while moderating content responsibly.
More recently, Twitter appeared to begin restricting content related to legal challenges against the 2020 general election results. Earlier this week, Twitter users began noticing that the platform prevented users from posting lawyer Sidney Powell’s website, which includes links to her lawsuits filed in Michigan and Georgia, alleging significant election fraud. Twitter did not respond to The Epoch Times’ request to comment at the time.
On Friday, the company appeared to have unblocked users from posting the link.
Jack Phillips contributed to this report.
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