June 3, 2020 — The actions that President Donald Trump has taken to punish tech companies for alleged anti-conservative discrimination are radical, said Section 230 co-author Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in an Aspen Institute webinar Tuesday.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects tech platforms from legal liability for non-criminal third party content on their websites. But Trump and several conservative critics have long argued that such protections are invalid when platforms begin playing an active role in content moderation.
When Twitter placed a warning label on one of Trump's tweets last week, the president promised to make good on a longstanding threat to punish the platform.
Wyden said that the actions Trump is taking are an example of the president's continued overreach in private business and lack of respect for the media.
“Donald Trump is waging an all-out war on the press, and pretty much anybody who seeks to hold him accountable, or actually disagrees with his lies, including on Twitter,” he said.
Section 230, Wyden explained, was intended to be a “sword and shield” to protect against small companies, organizations and movements against legal liability for what users post on their websites.
However, Wyden claimed that the statute’s interpretation had expanded beyond its original scope. Wyden said that he and his colleagues did not draft Section 230 with protections for big tech in mind and that he believes they are abusing their power in their data collection practices.
“I’ve got a lot of reservations about what big tech companies are doing today with respect to violating Americans’ privacy,” he said.
Although he is expressed discomfort with the ways interpretations of Section 230 have evolved, Wyden argued that the government should not abandon the legislation. It is an important protection for online forums and, by extension, the First Amendment, he said.
“I can tell you that Americans don't want to be at the mercy of speech police online or anywhere else,” he added.
It is unclear how Trump’s Executive Order will hold up, although Twitter is likely to take legal action in response.
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