When will Democrats actually listen to human rights experts about Section 230?

Posted November 30, 2021, 3:58 PM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 30, 2021

The House Energy & Commerce Committee will hold a hearing this Wednesday, December 1, 2021, where lawmakers are expected to discuss a number of proposals including legislation that takes aim at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. 

Unfortunately, top Democrats continue to ignore the voices of marginalized communities and human rights experts who have repeatedly warned about the dangers of uncareful changes to Section 230. For example, not a single Democrat on the committee has acknowledged receipt of this letter, signed by more than 70 prominent human rights, racial justice, LGBTQ+, and free expression organizations, conveying concern about the potential harm of changing or repealing Section 230. There are no witnesses at this Wednesday’s hearing who are experts in the impact of SESTA/FOSTA, the last major change to Section 230. 

Digital rights group Fight for the Future issued the following statement, which can be attributed to the group’s director, Evan Greer (she/her):

“Democrats need to stop ignoring human rights experts about Section 230 before they enact legislation that gets people killed. SESTA/FOSTA, the last major change to Section 230, directly led to loss of life and widespread online censorship that disproportionately impacted the most marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community. And a recent report from the Government Accountability Office shows that the law has utterly failed to accomplish its stated goal. 

Lawmakers have continued to ignore the concerns of impacted communities since then, and now we are looking at a slate of proposed changes to Section 230, the vast majority of which would do far more harm than good. From the wildly broad SAFE TECH Act to the poorly drafted Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act, Democrats continue to propose careless changes to Section 230 that fail to even pay lip service to protecting human rights or online free expression. 

Meanwhile, top Democrats have continued to drag their feet on measures that would actually reduce the harm of Big Tech giants and their surveillance capitalist business models. While there is significant disagreement among civil society groups about if and how to change Section 230, there is overwhelming consensus that a strong Federal data privacy law would be a significant harm reduction measure for the problems lawmakers claim they’re trying to solve, like surveillance-driven algorithmic amplification and the viral spread of hate speech and disinformation. 

Lawmakers say they want to ‘hold Big Tech accountable,’ so why are they playing directly into their hands by obsessing over Section 230 instead of advancing common sense privacy and antitrust legislation? Facebook (Meta), has been among the loudest companies lobbying to amend Section 230, because they know that doing so would solidify their monopoly power and wipe out their competition–thus directly undermining the Democrats’ existing antitrust efforts.

The current Congress may only get one shot at enacting meaningful legislation to reduce the harm of Big Tech. History will not look kindly on them if they squander it pushing performative legislation around Section 230 that won’t pass and would do more harm than good if it did. Instead, lawmakers should finally pass a real Federal data privacy law that strikes at the root of Big Tech’s harms.”

In addition to calling for federal data privacy legislation and robust antitrust enforcement, Fight for the Future has also called for the restoration of net neutrality to strike at the roots of monopoly power and an industry-wide moratorium on algorithmic amplification to end surveillance capitalism. We’ve held alternative hearings with leading experts who say gutting Section 230 won’t stop the misinformation problem, and we will continue to engage with lawmakers and the human rights community to better understand implications of changing Section 230.