Senators largely united in desire to rewrite Section 230

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DDuring a combative Senate Judiciary Committee audience Wednesday, Senate lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have doubled down on calls to gut key provisions of the internet’s most prominent legal liability shield. Senators slammed tech companies for allegedly putting profits ahead of user safety and slammed Supreme Court justices who seemed hesitant to overturn Ssection 230 protections during oral arguments last month. Proponents of Section 230 claim that its provisions are fundamental to the modern Internet. The senators disagreed.

“I don’t think you can argue that Section 230 as it’s currently written is critical to prosecuting the Internet,” said Connecticut Senator and Committee Chairman Richard Blumenthal.

Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, a categorical Holocaust denier and apparent insurgent fanboy, claimed that Section 230 has been “systematically rewritten” by the courts over the past two decades, often at the behest of big tech companies, to such an extent that it is now “completely unrecognizable” from what that Congress had planned. Without citing examples, he alleged that The Supreme Court was partly responsible for this perceived reinterpretation.

“I hope the Supreme Court will do something about it because frankly they share some of the blame for it,” he said.

Blumenthal, the chairman of the committee, made similar moves in court and said it “became clear” during the recent court hearing. oral arguments that they weren’t the greatest experts on the internet. Judge Elena Kagan basically aabandoned that point in her Remarks during the argumentcomments for the Gonzalez vs. Google case regarding section 230.

“We really don’t know about these things,” she said.

Unlike the justices who seemed uniformly worried about meddling in what some called the “backbone of the internet,” Senate members on both sides of the aisle seemed resolute in their desire to dump key parts of the 230. For two hours, senators and a panel of expert lawyers denounced protections they said were outdated for the modern Internet and unfairly prevent aggrieved users from seeking redress. Big Tech, in their view, had turned a liability shield into a sword for promoting harmful but profitable content

“The fact is, Big Tech is making a lot of money by directing the content to people who know the resulting harm,” Blumenthal said. “More eyeballs for more time means more money.”

What is Section 230 and why do lawmakers want to scrap it?

A little context is in order here. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act refers to 26 words of technology policy written in 1996 intended to protect then-nascent Internet platforms from a sea of ​​lawsuits that could potentially prevent them from growing. In a nutshell, Section 230 both prevents online platforms from facing lawsuits if one of its users posts something illegal and protects them from legal liability for moderating their own content. Meta and Googlee’s ability to energize content and organize stories as well as boot casters shit out of their platform without fear of litigation are directly linked to 230.

VS230 reviews, which includes just about every senator speaking at Wednesday’s hearing, says those protections, as currently interpreted, no longer make sense in the age of recommendation algorithms and technology. ‘IA. The senators insisted that Big Tech Companies have hidden behind the provisions to avoid facing legal consequences in case of dependence on their users to harmful content, disseminating child pornography or revenge pornography, and allegedly amplifying terrorist content. Section 230 was designed to provide small businesses with room to breathe, but Blumenthal said the main rig survived that privilege.

“Nobody is forever young,” said Blumenthal, 77. “And these companies are not small.”

Is social media a “faulty product?” »

During the hearing, lawmakers and pundits attempted to liken recommendation algorithms that serve potentially harmful content to “flawed products.” During his testimony, University of California computer science professor Hany Farid said that the central problem in terms of platform accountability is not about the on- or sub-moderation of speech but rather around “flawed” algorithms and design decisions that make users addicted, “in order to increase user engagement”. They said lawmakers should make sure these algorithms are “safe” just like they make sure phone batteries don’t randomly explode. GOOD, most of the time anyway.

Farid then drew sharp distinctions between search algorithms, which he said were essential for platforms such as Google, and supposedly less necessary recommendation algorithms that he described as non-“essential” functions.

“Recommendation the algorithms are designed for one thing: to make platforms sticky,” Farid said.

Mary Anne Franks, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, acknowledged that some platforms make good faith efforts to be responsible stewards of the internet, but said the current norm leaves users to thank you for their good graces. Farid, who helped create a program to research CSAM, said Big Tech platforms were unresponsive to criticism pleading with them to take more action against CSAM content because it could threaten their bottom line.

“They came kicking and screaming to do the absolute minimum,” he said. “They don’t want to do it because it’s not profitable.”

Hawley, meanwhile, fired at the current state of tech regulators he accused of being financially captured.

“Big Tech companies tend to own the regulators at the end of the day,” he said. “It’s a revolving door.

230 outright repeals would be a “calamity”

The only voice arguing for restraint around the 230 amendment came from Andrew Sullivan, president and CEO of the nonprofit. Internet company. During this testimony, Sullivan said an outright call of 230 “would be a calamity” and would turn the internet into a much less-free place of communication. Although the senators have uniformly focused their criticism on the dominant technology platforms, Sullivan said the reforms they advocate would in reality serve against all odds to further strengthen their power.

“If there are any changes at 230, it’s almost certain [that] the greatest players will survive it because they have amassed so much wealth,” Sullivan said. “Smaller players will have very difficult times entering the markets.”

Gutting Section 230, Sullivan added, might not necessarily destroy the internet as some have warned, but it will degrade it into something unrecognizable.

“Well, there’s still something we call the Internet, but it’s not going to be the thing that allows people to reach out and connect with each other,” Sullivan said.

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