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Section 230

Joint Center Calls Trump’s Proposed Changes to Section 230 an Attempt to ‘Work the Referees’

Liana Sowa

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Screenshot from Spencer Overton's testimony

October 7, 2020 – Spencer Overton, president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, on Tuesday said that the Trump Administration’s proposal on Section 230 would eliminate the ability of tech platforms to remove otherwise “objectionable” content, such as election disinformation.

While the proposal would still preserve platforms’ rights protections for removing “obscene” or “excessively violent” content without facing legal liability, the proposal could jeopardize civil rights.

Testifying (PDF) before the House Elections Subcommittee of the Administration Committee, Overton said that private companies elevate civil rights and democracy by removing lies about our elections.

Just as these companies may remove pornography without facing legal liability for doing so, the same standard should apply to removing false voting information, he said.

Overton said the Russians and the Trump campaign both purchased misleading advertisements to dissuade Black voters from voting.

He warned that the Trump Administration’s war against Section 230 disincentivizes platforms to remove disinformation suppressing Black votes. In effect, they are “working the referees.”

He called upon tech companies to remove disinformation that prevents Black voters from being targeted again – whether by Russia, or by Trump.

Overton supported Section 230 as a statute, though he did favor changes to remove liability from internet companies targeting housing and employment ads toward whites and away from Blacks and Latinos. Further, when they target voter suppression ads at Black communities, they should not be able to claim immunity from federal and state civil rights laws.

He said the tech platforms have improved since 2016. But he asked for a more robust definition of voter suppression.

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