On behalf of the Trump Administration the US Department of Justice unveiled a new draft of legislation that revamps the infamous Section 230 protections for tech companies. The last telecommunications bill was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and it included the section that was crafted to create protections for data centers and backbone sites in the telecommunications industry. This move by the President is a counter strike to the rampant online censorship that his campaign and administration has been critical of.
Section 230 is an exemption to liability for infrastructure. Massive data centers or backbone junctures cannot possibly be held responsible for the content of the data that moves through their systems. Nowadays large social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all enjoy those same protections. In 1996 there were no social media companies and it made a lot of sense to offer protections to upstart tech companies who were critical to the burgeoning dotcom boom and birth of the internet and world wide web.
Social media companies have abused these protections while pressing intense quality content rules on their userbase. This explicit use of moderation takes these social media companies outside of the definition of platforms and turns them into publishers. Platforms and publishers are distinct legal terms used in the Section 230 designed to differentiate companies who publish content or handle trunked data.
The new Section 230 legislation proposed by the Department of Justice removes these special protections. No longer will Facebook, Twitter, or Google be able to abuse their user base by forcefully moderating them into a corralled corner of the internet. Users who have been banned or censored will have full legal recourse against the platforms that abuse them.
The bill is expected to pass Congress. It addresses two major high points. The first is transparency and open discourse which includes all of the topics discussed above. The next major item included in the bill is a special address to illicit activity online. The bill places incentives on platforms and publishers to protect Good Samaritans and address illicit content.
Twitter has been expanding it’s legal team as it moves into an uncertain future. Social media companies have been under intense scrutiny as they ride the line as a public platform while exercising editorial control. Twitter, facebook, and others are at risk of losing special protections granted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Congressman Jim Jordan revealed that James Baker is also the subject of a criminal investigation. In a latter from GOP representattives Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows cited a transcript of the Congressional interview with James Baker last fall. The probe stems from the transcript where US Attorney John Durham was confirmed. The letter was sent to Durham and requested more information about the probe.
Section 230 immunity allows some online sites to exist as platforms and avoid responsibility for the content users post within. In exchange for acting as a utility and being open to everyone, they are granted protection from being liable for the content of their user’s posts. The immunity was meant to nurture emerging internet businesses and to overrule a judicial precedent that rendered online platforms liable for all third party content on their services if they restricted any harmful content at all.