LOS ANGELES - President Donald Trump called for a repeal of Section 230, a law widely credited for creating the internet as we know it today.
Last week, Trump met with Republican state attorneys general to discuss Section 230, after the Justice Department unveiled a legislative proposal aimed at reforming the law, according to the Washington Post.
On Tuesday, Trump called to repeal Section 230 on Twitter, writing, “REPEAL SECTION 230!!!”
While both sides of the political aisle in the U.S. want to reform Section 230, they have very different perspectives on the issue.
What is Section 230?
Section 230 is found under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, providing legal immunity and protections from liability for anything posted on internet companies’ websites.
The law says that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." (47 U.S.C. § 230).
This means social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter cannot be legally held responsible for the content posted by other users, as long as they quickly remove illegal content like copyright violations.
But the law also allows owners of websites to remove content they deem offensive or inappropriate.
In September, Twitter announced it would start labeling or removing misleading claims that try to undermine public confidence in elections or that spread misinformation about COVID-19. Facebook also announced it would restrict new political ads in the week before the election and remove posts that convey misinformation about COVID-19 and voting, the Associated Press reported.
Why does Trump want to repeal Section 230?
Trump argues that Section 230 suppresses conservative voices and infringes on users’ First Amendment rights on the internet and on social media platforms.
On Monday, in social media posts, Trump falsely claimed that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was not as deadly as the flu. Trump’s post was removed by Facebook and flagged by Twitter for violating the social media platforms’ rules, the companies said.
Just one day after returning to the White House after being hospitalized at Walter Reed Military Medical Center for COVID-19, Trump wrote on Twitter, “Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu.”
Twitter put a disclaimer on Trump’s tweet which requires users to read before clicking to see the post’s contents.
A Facebook spokesperson said, “We remove incorrect information about the severity of COVID-19, and have now removed this post.”
The recent labeling and removal of Trump’s social media posts were the latest development in a months-long back-and-forth between the president and social media giants Twitter and Facebook.
In July, Twitter removed a video that was retweeted on Trump's account sharing unproven claims that an anti-malaria drug is an effective treatment for the coronavirus. The platform also limited the account of the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., after he shared one version of the video as a “must watch!!!”
In May, Twitter applied the fact-checking label to some of Trump’s tweets that called mail-in ballots “fraudulent” and predicted that “mail boxes will be robbed.”
Trump issued an executive order in May in response to Twitter’s fact-checking policy.
“Twitter now selectively decides to place a warning label on certain tweets in a manner that clearly reflects political bias,” Trump wrote. “As President, I have made clear my commitment to free and open debate on the internet. Such debate is just as important online as it is in our universities, our town halls, and our homes. It is essential to sustaining our democracy.”
Trump went on to say that online platforms were “invoking inconsistent, irrational, and groundless justifications to censor or otherwise restrict Americans’ speech here at home.”
On Sept. 23, the Justice Department submitted a proposal to Congress regarding Section 230, urging lawmakers to make reforms that allow online sites to be sued “when they unlawfully censor speech and when they knowingly facilitate criminal activity online.”
"That legislation addresses concerns about online censorship by requiring greater transparency and accountability when platforms remove lawful speech," Attorney General William Barr said.
Where Biden differs on Section 230
Biden also wants major changes made to Section 230, but it’s not for the same reasons that Trump does. In fact, it’s for the opposite reason.
Biden believes that Section 230 has not done enough to shield people from false information on the internet.
In 2019, Biden told the New York Times, “It [Facebook] it propagating falsehoods they know to be false.”
Democrats argue that Facebook, Google and Twitter have failed to regulate hate speech and false news on their platforms, and Biden ultimately wants to force companies to do more content moderating.
Internet giants fight back
Executives at Twitter have agreed to testify at a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Oct. 23 about Section 230, just days before the presidential election.
Politico reports that Sundar Pichai of Google and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook also plan to appear.
By repealing Section 230, experts say Facebook could come out of the shift relatively unscathed, because the company has the scale and the money to fight lawsuits in court, where smaller companies do not have the funding to do that.