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WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the House Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee convened a hearing to discuss possible legislative action on Section 230 of the Communications Act.

Section 230 generally shields websites from legal liability for the material that users post on their platforms while also giving these websites the leeway they need to moderate content that violates their community standards. During today’s House hearing, Congress heard many calls for reforming and even repealing the statute. According to Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta (R–Ohio), the hearing “provide[d] an opportunity to reexamine the purpose of Section 230 and discuss what Congress can do to bring this law into the 21st Century.”

In congressional testimony during a 2021 hearing on Section 230, Free Press Action General Counsel and Vice President of Policy Matt Wood explained that the law is still vital. Free Press Action has called on Congress to strike the right balance on any possible change to Section 230. It’s crucial to preserve the law’s powerful benefits when considering any clarifications. Those should recognize that platforms are already liable in many situations — for their own content and materials, and potentially when they knowingly promote or amplify content that causes harm.

Wood said this about today’s hearing:

“Today’s debate on Section 230 is the latest in a long series. Smart conversations about what this law actually does would be welcome, but lawmakers must be careful not to see a repeal of this important rule as the solution to every harm that powerful and often unaccountable tech companies inflict. Section 230 is not sacrosanct, but any changes to the statute must meet a very high bar. And beyond any Section 230 changes, internet users need other safeguards too — including open-internet protections, privacy laws, civil-rights litigation, antitrust enforcement and new models for funding quality journalism in the online ecosystem.

“Section 230 lets platforms like Facebook and YouTube serve different communities. The law empowers these and other websites to moderate content while giving them protection against liability for what their users say. We have to get this balance right. This statute must continue to ensure that people can speak online without intermediaries and gatekeepers controlling their every utterance. Yet it also must ensure that platforms take some responsibility — and have some agency — in preventing the spread of disinformation, bullying and hate so often targeted at people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ individuals and other impacted user groups.

“Free Press Action has explained that under the law as it stands today, platforms are already liable for their own actions and content they create themselves. And they could and should be held liable — even with Section 230 firmly in place — if harmed parties can successfully make the case that a platform has knowledge of the dangerous character of the content it’s hosting. In our view, liability turns on the platforms’ knowledge of the unlawful nature of the third-party content they host, not solely on whether they recommend or promote it somehow.

“Platforms should not be expected to review in advance every one of the potentially hundreds of millions of new pieces of user-generated content they host every day. But neither can they claim Section 230 as an absolute defense, if they know about the unlawful nature of the content they’re distributing and fail to act on that knowledge.

“Free Press Action staunchly opposes any congressional effort to repeal Section 230 outright. A repeal would chill expression and result in platforms excessively taking down content to protect against any liability. The result could shutter entire sites and services, and disproportionately shut out people of color and other already marginalized speakers. We need to clarify what the law says and does today, including an understanding of its continued benefits, and advance conversations about any amendments with that understanding in place.”

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