The Section 230 Sunset Act is Irresponsible and Dangerous

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) have released the Section 230 Sunset Act, which would end Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

This bill would be a disaster for millions of interactive computer services, including websites, e-commerce stores, and other small businesses.

The legislation states, “This section shall have no force or effect after December 31, 2025.” In a May 12 Wall Street Journal op-ed, McMorris-Rodgers and Pallone instead propose creating an emergency that threatens to break the internet: “Big Tech [has] a choice: Work with Congress to ensure the internet is a safe, healthy place for good, or lose Section 230 protections entirely.” 1 And if an alternative could not be agreed upon by Congress, millions of websites, e-commerce stores, and other interactive computer services would be held liable for their user networks.

Let’s be clear about what is at stake. Section 230 protects platforms like eBay, YouTube, X, Truth Social, Rumble from liability claims over content posted by users. The ability of people to post reels on Facebook or product offerings on eBay would end. The protection Section 230 provides from a swarm of trial lawyers filing grievance lawsuits looking to squeeze dollars out of social media platforms is essential to a functioning interactive internet.

This internet liability shield in Section 230 is succinctly stated under the law: “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.”

Publishers and speakers can be held liable for malice, slander, or libel under the current law because they actively control what is printed on their pages and, as a result, are responsible for their contents. However, internet platforms that allow content providers access to their web space are currently protected from these claims. The removal of Section 230 protections would force a review of every post on every website, resulting in the entire internet system we know breaking under the threat of civil litigation.

While millions of websites would be effectively forced to become one-way communications tools, denying hundreds of millions of people in America the ability to post a product for sale or voice an opinion to an audience that chooses to follow them, some big tech companies like Microsoft, which has little investment in interactive platforms, would benefit as their competitors business models were effectively destroyed.

Many conservatives, including this one, have been concerned about shadow banning and other efforts to inhibit the distribution of information by interactive internet companies. Over the past year, we have learned that much of that concern was driven by federal government officials who regularly targeted speech topics like COVID and election integrity in their demands for social media companies to restrict their distribution. Federal officials seeking to intimidate social media companies into censoring speech that they cannot due to the First Amendment to the Constitution are the problem Congress should address.

And the answer to that problem is for Congress to end the allowance for the Department of Homeland Security to demand speech control through the 2018 CISA law and to specifically hold the Federal Bureau of Investigation accountable for their actions directing the takedown of political speech at X (then Twitter), Facebook, and other platforms.

To completely dismantle the way internet interactivity works in an attempt to extort unnamed changes from social media companies is both foolish and dangerous. Any reasonable observer of the way Congress works knows that hard deadlines don’t always result in good legislation. When it comes to governance of the internet, it is irresponsible to put a timetable on its destruction as we know it, and expect the extortion to bear good results.

This is particularly true since the lead sponsor of the legislation, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, is retiring and won’t be in Congress to deal with the mess that she will have created.

Congress should reject the Section 230 Sunset Act as little more than dangerous pot stirring that doesn’t bother to put forward any answers. As a child, it may have made sense to say, “Let’s see what happens if I push this button,” but as adults, we have a responsibility to foresee the worst possible consequences and seek to avoid them. On the McMorris Rodgers-Pallone bill, Congress needs to act like adults and not push a button with full knowledge of the disastrous consequences that could very likely result.

1 https://www.wsj.com/articles/sunset-of-section-230-would-force-big-techs-hand-208f75f1

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Notable Replies

  1. How stupid does it have to get? The publisher’s already have a self exempt clause and can’t be sued for comments left by others without getting sued for violation of the 1st AMENDMENT.
    There are already laws on the books for harassment, stalking, and threats are also ILLEGAL. LIKE MAXINE WATERS THREATS TO THE REPUBLICANS, THAT WAS AN UNLAWFUL THREAT TO HARM.

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