What is Section 230? The internet law that President Trump wants to repeal

U.S.

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — In October, President Donald Trump posted on social media about repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act after Facebook removed a post by the president comparing COVID-19 to the seasonal flu, while Twitter flagged it with a warning, “misleading” information.

The following information is what Trump posted:

“Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with COVID, in most populations far less lethal!!!”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP ON TWITTER

The post was replaced with this flag:

“We remove incorrect information about the severity of COVID-19, and have now removed this post,” Facebook said in a statement to NewsNation.

“We placed a public interest notice on this Tweet for violating our COVID-19 Misleading Information Policy by making misleading health claims about COVID-19. As is standard with this public interest notice, engagements with the Tweet will be significantly limited,” Twitter said in a statement.

Trump took to Twitter to voice his objection to the removal of his post: “REPEAL SECTION 230!!!”

The federal law, Section 230, “Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material,” is part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The section gives social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, permission to moderate and regulate content on their platforms without being legally responsible for the information they host, including “internet speech”:

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider… shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”

SECTION 230

It also protects social media sites from people who claim the First Amendment gives them the power to post whatever they want as long as it’s legal, without it being taken down. 

In May, President Trump signed an executive order to repeal Section 230, citing “selective censoring” by social media sites, just two days after Twitter added fact-checking labels to the president’s tweets. The order would allow the Federal Communications Commission to set new rules on website protections and give the FCC the green light to take action against companies that engage in “deceptive” acts of communication.

NewsNation talked with Eric Goldman, professor at Santa Clara University School of Law to explain what repealing Section 230 could mean for internet users after a new bill proposed by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ties an increase in the second round of stimulus checks to social media immunity and election fraud.

Goldman says Section 230 is a law that protects internet companies from being liable for third-party content; he says it’s been that way since “the beginning of the internet.”

“The whole point of the rule is that internet companies can do socially viable content moderation if they are not legally liable for whatever they miss,” said Goldman. “Section 230 doesn’t mandate that internet services do any particular type of content moderation. They’re free to choose among a wide variety of editorial practices and still get the same legal protection, it’s that diversity that enables us to have these really rich ecosystems of internet services all trying to cater differently to their audiences and that’s really what’s at risk.”

He says there is pressure to come up with alternative rules for how internet services should operate. Goldman says if Section 230 is eliminated the internet would “shrink radically.”

“The services we love and enjoy the most, the user generated content services that we depend upon… all these services would either deeply retrench or not exist whatsoever,” said Goldman. “What would be left is an internet that would be basically dominated by existing celebrities and existing brands.”

Editor’s note: this article, originally published in Oct. of 2020 has been updated to include new reporting after a new bill proposed by Sen. Mitch McConnell ties a proposed increase in the second round of stimulus checks to social media immunity and election fraud

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