Against drastic amendments to Section 230 of the Media Decency Act, a coalition of 75 advocacy organizations and non-profits urged that it could censor vulnerable people by making web moderation more challenging.
“When it comes to digital speech, Section 230 is a fundamental law for free expression and human rights,” the letter states. The legislation prohibits websites and applications from being punished for user-generated content, making social networking, comment sections, or hosting platforms simpler to run. “Overly broad changes to Section 230 could hurt and silence marginalized people disproportionately, whose voices have historically been ignored by mainstream press outlets.”
The letter is signed by a number of online organizations that promote social inequality, the rights of sex workers, and free speech, including the Wikimedia Foundation, Fight for the World, and the Outreach Initiative for Sex Workers. It is addressed to Congress and President Joe Biden’s presidency, all of whom have demonstrated an appetite to amend Section 230.
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The authors point to FOSTA-SESTA, a 2018 rule that eliminated legal provisions for hosting prostitution-related content, to illustrate the possible damage of significant reforms.
“The effects of this law have been immediate and destructive, limiting sex workers’ accounts and making it harder to find and help those trafficked online,” they report. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who called for a review of how the legislation has changed sex workers, are pushing for the passage of a 2019 resolution.
At least one independent study undertaken by Hacking/Hustling, a signatory, showed a detrimental impact on the protection and financial health of many participants.
The letter further states that Section 230 requires corporations without fear of litigation from dissatisfied customers to withdraw offensive articles. For example, Amazon invoked it to justify the suspension of violent attacks by the social network Parler.
With concrete regulatory action on data protection, human rights and other fronts, and regulation of current antitrust legislation, Congress can act to resolve the harms of Big Tech. “But careless attempts in Section 230 to poke holes could lead to the exact opposite result,” the writers write.
The Trump administration pushed to rewrite Section 230, seeking to prohibit the elimination or fact-checking of posts by former President Donald Trump as well as other political material from social media platforms. Related reforms were endorsed by many Republican lawmakers.
The incoming Biden administration still is dismissive of Section 230, however since Biden has argued the statute encourages corporations such as Facebook to host misleading information on opposite grounds. (Many misleading claims are covered by the First Amendment.) Yesterday, Gina Raimondo, Biden’s candidate for Secretary of the Commerce Department, voiced support for reforming the rule.