When asked to comment on Elon Musk buying Twitter, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki mentioned Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. The controversial legal provision provides a legal “safe harbor” for internet companies, allowing them to be generally exempt from liability for the material users post on their networks.
“No matter who owns or runs Twitter, the president has long been concerned about the power of large social media platforms, the power they have over our everyday lives; has long argued that tech platforms must be held accountable for the harms they cause,” Psaki said Monday. “He has been a strong supporter of fundamental reforms to achieve that goal, including reforms to Section 230, enacting antitrust reforms, requiring more transparency, and more.”
Psaki’s comments were not “on a specific transaction” like the Twitter deal. She added “in terms of what hypothetical policies might happen, I’m just not going to speak to that at this point in time.” No specific plan to reform Section 230 can be found on the White House website.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have called for stripping away some of the protections afforded to internet companies by Section 230. Republicans have accused social media companies like Facebook and Twitter of anti-conservative bias that erases those viewpoints. Democrats’ concerns typically focus on hate speech and conspiracy theories that have sometimes incited physical violence.
President Joe Biden has been a vocal critic of Section 230 since long before Musk bought Twitter, mentioning it on the campaign trail in 2020. Meanwhile, Former President Donald Trump addressed the provision in his lawsuit against Facebook, Twitter and Google last year. The lawsuit asked all three companies to, among other things, declare Section 230 unconstitutional.
“We are asking the court to impose punitive damages on these social media giants,” former President Trump said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit. “We’re going to hold big tech very accountable.”