House Witnesses Mixed on Proposed Section 230 Repeal

Meanwhile, lobbying groups and think tanks largely denounced the move.

House Witnesses Mixed on Proposed Section 230 Repeal
Screenshot of House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, at Wednesday's hearing

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2024 – A House proposal to shutter the law that protects social media and other platforms from liability for the content posted by their users received mixed responses from witnesses at a hearing on Wednesday.

The proposed legislation, unveiled last week by House Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, and Ranking Member Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, would repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act at the end of 2025. The two co-authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed outlining their reasoning.

The purpose of the proposal, McMorris Rodgers said, is to force Congress to act to reform the provision and put in place more penalties for tech platforms that don’t effectively moderate harmful content.

“Let me be clear: our goal is not for Section 230 to disappear,” she said. “But the reality is that nearly 25 bills to amend Section 230 have been introduced over the last two Congresses. Many of these were good-faith attempts to reform the law, and big tech lobbied to kill them every time.”

She added, "By enacting this legislation, we will force Congress to act.”

There was broad agreement among lawmakers and witnesses that Section 230 needs some kind of reform. Under the current regime, “interactive computer services” are not considered the publisher of anything posted by their users, shielding social media companies and other platforms from liability for hosting harmful content as long as it doesn’t break federal laws.

Kate Tummarello, executive director of Engine, a lobbying group that says it advocates for startups and small businesses, urged against striking down the law without a replacement framework out of fear that small platforms could be hit with debilitating lawsuits.

“We’re not opposed to reforming section 230,” she said. “What we are concerned about is sunsetting because, one, the end of 2025 is quickly coming up, but also there’s been so much discord between members of Congress generally about what should replace Section 230 that we worry we could get caught in a tug of war.”

Carrie Goldberg, a lawyer who represents victims of online harassment, said the standard should be completely repealed with no replacement protections for platforms that host user-generated content.

Removing Section 230 “doesn’t just create a tort that anybody can sue under,” she said “So I don’t actually understand the basis or concern that suddenly the gateways of litigation are going to open.”

Groups of all ideological stripes posted statements against a Section 230 repeal ahead of Wednesday’s hearing.

Big tech lobbying group CCIA said a sunset would make online spaces “more dangerous and less trustworthy,” and the progressive think tank Free Press said “this approach lacks the nuance required to prevent this move from backfiring and destroying the internet as we know it.”

TechFreedom, a conservative free-market think tank, said in a letter the proposal's ultimatum would result in a frenzy to attach unrelated amendments to Section 230 reform rather than a well-reasoned solution.

“This is a dangerous gamble indeed,” the group said.

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