President Biden called on Congress Thursday to strip Big Tech platforms of immunity for third-party content — saying it was time to “hold social media companies accountable” nearly two years after then-President Donald Trump attempted to force Congress to make the same change.
Biden said it was time to end the protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 because the law gives a free pass for hosting bigoted content.
“I’m calling on Congress to get rid of special immunity for social media companies and impose much stronger transparency requirements on all of them,” Biden said in the White House East Room at an event focused on condemning hate crimes.
The crowd gave a standing ovation when Biden said he wanted Congress to “hold social media companies accountable for spreading hate and fueled violence.”
After the event, activist Al Sharpton told reporters on the White House driveway that Biden specifically chose the event to begin a push to repeal Section 230. Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League said there remains a question of what specific legislative package Biden would support.
Biden said in a January 2020 interview that he wanted to repeal Section 230, but he’s said little since then as social media companies have received scorn primarily from Republicans over anti-conservative censorship.
Biden, then still a candidate in the Democratic presidential primary, told the New York Times that “Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one — for [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg and other platforms.”
Many Republicans rallied around repealing Section 230 in October 2020 after Twitter and Facebook censored The Post’s reporting on a Hunter Biden hard drive that contained documents linking Joe Biden to his son’s business relationships in China and Ukraine.
During his final weeks in office, Trump vetoed a $740 billion defense bill because it did not repeal Section 230, among other grievances — including that the bill sought to block his drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and forced the renaming of 10 military bases that honor Confederates.
Trump said in his veto message that the bill “fails even to make any meaningful changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, despite bipartisan calls for repealing that provision. Section 230 facilitates the spread of foreign disinformation online, which is a serious threat to our national security and election integrity. It must be repealed.”
Reform to Section 230 is a potential area of bipartisan cooperation — uniting Trump’s most fervent supporters with Democratic leaders, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who in 2019 called the provision a “gift” to Big Tech “that could be removed.“
There are several pending bills that would overhaul the law, which was designed to allow Internet companies the breathing room to grow without crippling litigation over third-party posts.
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) last year introduced a bill that seeks to stop partisan censorship by companies like Facebook and Twitter by declaring the platforms “common carriers,” a term also used for companies like railroads that must transport goods without discrimination.
Hagerty’s 21st Century FREE Speech Act would repeal Section 230 and require transparency in moderation practices while declaring any “interactive computer service” with “more than 100,000,000 worldwide active monthly users” as a common carrier that could not discriminate by viewpoint.
The bill also would mandate that platforms publish “accurate” moderation and account suspension information.
A different approach is promoted by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), sponsor of the Bust Up Big Tech Act and Trust-Busting for the Twenty-First Century Act, which would force some companies to break up to avoid monopoly power.
Two more limited bills, meanwhile, would rein in the power of Big Tech without touching Section 230.
Those measures, spearheaded by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), are pending in the Senate and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said last month he intends to hold floor votes — a remark that thrilled activists who had attacked Schumer by pointing out his daughters work for Amazon and Facebook.
The pending American Innovation and Choice Online Act would ban platforms like Amazon and Google from unfairly squelching the products of rival companies and is co-sponsored by seven Republican senators. An eighth Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, supported it in committee.
The related Open App Markets Act would restrict Google and Apple from rigging their smartphone app stores against competitors and has some of the same sponsors, plus two additional Republicans, Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Marco Rubio of Florida.