On May 29, the president of the United States of America tweeted, simply, “REVOKE 230!” The message was all caps, with an exclamation mark for good measure. The message was nothing, if not direct, following the issuing of an executive order, which, among other things, seeks to strip away key protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Today, four Republican senators sent an open letter to the FCC, urging chairman Ajit Pai to examine the “special status” afforded to social media sites under the statute. The letter, authored by Marco Rubio, Kelly Loeffler, Kevin Cramer and Josh Hawley reads, in part:
Social media companies have become involved in a range of editorial and promotional activity; like publishers, they monetize, edit, and otherwise editorialize user content. It is time to take a fresh look at Section 230 and to interpret the vague standard of “good faith” with specific guidelines and direction. In addition, it appears that courts have granted companies immunity for editing and altering content even though the text of Section 230 prohibits immunity for any content that the company “in part … develop[s].” These interpretations also deserve a fresh look. We therefore request that the FCC clearly define the framework under which technology firms, including social media companies, receive protections under Section 230.
The letter adds that, unlike Trump, who currently has around 82 million followers, “everyday Americans” are “sidelined, silenced, or otherwise censored by these corporations.” Trump himself has had a longstanding problem with the rule, which he and fellow Republicans have accused of enabling the censorship of conservative free speech. While he’s long been rumored to be interested in killing the legislation, Twitter’s decision to issue a warning label on a Trump tweet appears to have been the final straw.
Pai previously voiced a disinterest in regulating social media sites in that manner. Speaking to Reuters, the chairman declined to comment one way or the other, stating that he didn’t want to “prejudge a petition that I haven’t seen.”
Earlier today, the statute’s author, Senator Ron Wyden, penned an op-ed defending 230, writing:
Just look at Black Lives Matter and the protests against police violence over the past week as an example. The cellphone video that captured the officer kneeling on George Floyd's neck spread across social media platforms — and it's the reason Americans learned about his unjust killing in the first place. So many of these cases of unconscionable use of force against black Americans have come to light as a result of videos posted to social media.