President Donald Trump
Carlos Barria | Reuters
President Donald Trump is putting pressure on his Republican allies over a law that has protected social media companies for decades.
In his final weeks in office, Trump launched a sweeping attack on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects tech companies from being held liable for what users post on their platforms.
Trump wants Section 230 to be gone. He linked the problem with the passage of a major annual defense spending bill and, more recently, the prospect of approving an increase in coronavirus relief checks from $ 600 to $ 2,000.
"If the Republicans don't have a death wish, and if it's the right thing to do, they must approve the $ 2,000 payments as soon as possible. $ 600 isn't enough!" Trump tweeted on Tuesday.
"Get rid of Section 230, too – Don't let Big Tech steal our country or let the Democrats steal the presidential election. Get tough!" he wrote.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle – including President-elect Joe Biden – have made complaints about Section 230, and some have taken steps to reform the provision. But there is little appetite on Capitol Hill to immediately repeal, let alone add such a repeal to the $ 740 billion defense bill or the latest pandemic relief laws.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., However, appears to have heeded Trump's demands.
On Tuesday afternoon, McConnell tabled a bill that would link an increase in stimulus checks directly to a repeal of Section 230. This bill would also set up a bipartisan commission to investigate the "integrity and administration" of the 2020 election that Trump falsely insisted on winning Biden.
McConnell's bill is very unlikely to reach the 60-vote threshold required for Senate passage. But its failure could be a victory for Republican lawmakers, many of whom opposed an increase in the stimulus tests and were surprised by Trump's late-stage demand.
Here's what you should know about Section 230 and where it is:
How it started
Section 230 was drafted by former Rep. Chris Cox, R-Calif., And Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Following a 1995 court ruling against online service Prodigy.
This company had been sued for defamation after an anonymous user accused an investment firm of fraud on its platform. The court ruled that since Prodigy was moderating some of the posts on the platform, it should be treated like a publisher.
Cox and Wyden, who disagreed with this decision, introduced Section 230 to protect technology companies from becoming legally liable for the content of their users if they chose to moderate it. The law allows companies to participate in the "Good Samaritan" moderation of material without being treated like a publisher or speaker under the law.
How it goes
More than two decades later, the prospect of Section 230 repealing is likely to be a deal breaker for many lawmakers.
In countless discussions about the reform of liability protection, the members largely agreed that some of its protective measures are important for the continued functioning of an open and relatively secure Internet.
For example, the law not only protects tech platforms from being held accountable for their users' contributions, but also allows them to remove "offensive" messages. While the term is open to the platforms' interpretations, this portion of the law allows companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google's YouTube to quickly remove messages about terrorism, violence, or self-harm without fear of misjudging them into legal trouble.
And while conservatives aim to have fewer restrictions placed on their posts, the removal of Section 230 could result in even more restrictions. Without liability coverage, platforms could be encouraged to review more content before it can be uploaded.
Some Democrats have also resented the law. Biden expressed dislike of Section 230 and told the New York Times editorial staff in January that tech platforms like Facebook should be "lifted immediately". However, this means seems to go beyond the wishes of many Democrats, which often include placing more responsibility on platforms for moderating bodies, as permitted in Section 230.
"You're mad on Twitter"
Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images
The National Defense Authorization Act, usually passed with overwhelming support from both parties and veto-proof majorities, is a comprehensive defense law that authorizes $ 740 billion in spending and outlines Pentagon policy.
This year's legislation includes a 3% pay increase for US troops, a plan to rename military facilities with the names of Confederate leaders, and a number of other provisions. In mid-December, the NDAA passed the house and the GOP-led Senate with veto-proof majorities in both chambers.
Even so, Trump vetoed the bill last week, in large part because of the lack of language to repeal Section 230.
The move placed many GOP lawmakers in the uncomfortable position of overriding a possible veto of a Republican president who commands strong support within his party. The Democratic majority house voted to overturn Trump's veto on Monday, and McConnell stands ready to push a similar vote in his chamber.
Trump, who refuses to admit his loss to Biden in an election where Republicans exceeded expectations, is still putting pressure on his political allies to meet his call to meet Section 230.
"Weak and tired Republican" leadership "will allow the bad defense law to be passed," Trump tweeted Tuesday morning.
"Say goodbye to the termination of VITAL Section 230," he wrote before listing other complaints to the NDAA. "A shameful act of cowardice and utter submission of weak people at Big Tech. Negotiate better bill or get better leaders NOW! The Senate shouldn't approve the NDAA until this is fixed !!!"
The president signed the Coronavirus Ease and Government Spending Act on Sunday. That bill includes $ 600 in direct payments for Americans – but days before it was signed, Trump requested that those payments be increased to $ 2,000.
McConnell in the Senate on Tuesday outlined three priorities Trump had placed on Congress in signing this Covid bill: larger direct payments, questions about Section 230, and unfounded concerns about widespread election fraud.
"This week the Senate will start a process to bring these three priorities into focus," said McConnell.
McConnell followed up on those remarks later in the day by adding a bill to the Senate calendar that linked an increase in the direct payment, repeal of Section 230 and the establishment of an electoral commission.
The GOP leader had blocked an offer from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, to unanimously approve an increase in stimulus checks to $ 2,000.
Schumer immediately slammed McConnell's bill as a "cynical move" to provide cover for the Republicans while withholding much-needed funds from the warring Americans.
"Senator McConnell knows how to turn $ 2,000 survival checks into reality and how to kill them," Schumer said in a statement.
"If Senator McConnell tries to load the bipartisan, House-passed CASH Act with unrelated, partisan provisions that do absolutely nothing to get families in trouble across the country, it will not happen to the House and it will not become law – such a move by Sen. McConnell would be a blatant attempt to deprive Americans of a $ 2,000 survival check.
"Will Senate Republicans follow Sen. McConnell's cynical move or will they urge him to vote on the stand-alone CASH Act passed by the House?" Schumer's statement said.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle had already pushed back Trump's request after eleven hours to include the repeal of Section 230 in the NDAA, saying it was irrelevant to its passage.
"First, 230 has nothing to do with the military," Senator Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, told reporters earlier this month.
"We should abolish 230, but you cannot do that in this bill. That is not part of the bill," added Inhofe.
"You're pissed off on Twitter. We all know it. You are ready to veto the Defense Act on anything that has anything to do with your ego and nothing to do with defense," said Adam Smith, Democrat, and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said after Trump's veto threat.
Meanwhile, some GOP senators like Senator Lindsey Graham [R-S.C.] And Senator Mike Braun [R-Ind.] Said they would support Trump's veto on the NDAA to repeal or reform Section 230.
Last week, Graham wrote on Twitter that he would not vote to override the president's veto. It was not the first time that Graham voted for the bill.
In addition, Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, passed legislation earlier this month ending Section 230 protection by January 1, 2023, unless Congress acts earlier. The draft law is intended to encourage legislators to take action on much-discussed reforms that have not yet reached a consensus. Graham introduced other bills that would change the protection of Section 230 but would not completely revoke it.