Four United States senators have called on the Federal Communications Commission to take a “fresh look” at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a rule that protects websites from liability for user-generated content. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) signed a letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai, asking the agency to “clearly define the framework under which technology firms, including social media companies, receive protections under Section 230.”
The message reiterates a demand from President Donald Trump, who signed an executive order against “social media bias” after Twitter added a fact-check to his false claims about voter fraud. The order is probably ineffectual and legally dubious, and it’s already been challenged in court for violating the First Amendment. But this letter backs up its central point: that the FCC should sidestep Congress and the courts to create its own, more politically favorable definition of Section 230.
The letter argues that websites should assume legal risk for user-generated content when they “blur the lines between distributor and publisher by favoring one political point of view over another,” but it complains that “judicial expansion” and “a lack of clear rules” have allowed them to maintain broad protections.
In reality, Section 230 applies to any “interactive computer service” regardless of whether it has a political slant or produces editorial content of its own. Courts have taken an expansive view of Section 230, but they’ve also interpreted it fairly consistently over the past couple of decades. The FCC can’t simply redefine the accepted scope of a short and straightforward law — serious changes would need to come through Congress, where lawmakers have proposed several changes to Section 230, including one “anti-bias” bill from Hawley.
The letter comes shortly after Section 230 co-writer Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) published an op-ed in CNN Business defending the rule. “Social media — as a direct result of Section 230 — has been a huge megaphone for people who want to challenge those in power,” he wrote. “Trump’s attempt to abolish Section 230 is essentially a way of bullying social media companies so that he may post what he wants without any challenge.”