President Donald Trump threatened to repeal a major defense funding bill unless it includes a repeal of a key law that provides liability protections for tech platforms for the way that they moderate content.
Trump tweeted late on Tuesday, “Section 230, which is a liability shielding gift from the U.S. to ‘Big Tech’ (the only companies in America that have it – corporate welfare!), is a serious threat to our National Security & Election Integrity. Our Country can never be safe & secure if we allow it to stand…..
“…..Therefore, if the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk. Take back America NOW. Thank you!”
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While there are calls from both parties to reform Section 230, the reasons for it are different. Trump has been lashing out at social media giants for years for alleged social media bias, even though the platforms deny that they engage in any kind of systemic effort to stifle conservative voices. Rather, Trump has seized on individual incidents as part of an overall grievance against the media in general.
Section 230 refers to a key passage of the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, that gives Internet companies a shield from liability for how they handle third-party content on their platforms. The industry has long defended the law as essential to growth and innovation, particularly of social media.
The Internet Association, which represents major Internet companies including Facebook and Twitter, issued a statement from its interim president and CEO Jon Berroya.
“Repealing Section 230 is itself a threat to national security,” Berroya said. “The law empowers online platforms to remove harmful and dangerous content, including terrorist content and misinformation. Section 230 also underpins countless ecommerce websites, apps, and services that are helping small businesses across the country keep the lights on during a pandemic.”
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters on Wednesday that the bill will not include a repeal of Section 230. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), wrote on Twitter, “To be clear, Mr. President, Section 230 repeal wasn’t included in the House OR Senate version of the NDAA. You’re mad at Twitter. We all know it. You’re willing to veto the defense bill over something that has everything to do with your ego, and nothing to do with defense.”
Trump issued an executive order in May, which included an effort to weaken Section 230’s liability protections by going through the FCC. But such an action now seems unlikely, as the agency will likely be deadlocked in the coming months or have a Democratic majority after Joe Biden takes office.
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