Nancy Pelosi Warns That Democrats May Do Away With Section 230, the Law That Protects Freedom of Speech and Expression Online

In a new interview, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has issued a stern warning to major tech firms.

Pelosi has prepared to do away with Section 230.

Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, the most important law protecting freedom of expression and innovation on the internet, states,

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

In short, this law protects online intermediaries – i.e., Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, etc. – from being held legally responsible for what users say and do.  Section 230 also protects ISPs and online services that publish third-party content, including bloggers that host comments on their sites.

Calling the law “a gift” to tech firms, Pelosi hinted that House Democrats will likely remove the immunity provided by Section 230.

It’s a gift to them and I don’t think that they’re treating it with the respect that they should, and so I think that that could be a question mark and in jeopardy…

“I do think that for the privilege of 230, there has to be a bigger sense of responsibility on it.  And, it’s not out of the question that that could be removed.

Pelosi’s statements came right before the European Union’s final approval of the Copyright Directive.

That’s part of a growing crackdown against social networks and UGC platforms by legislators.  In the case of the Copyright Directive, safe harbors around copyrighted works were heavily targeted.

Under the new bill, the Copyright Directive – specifically, Article 13 – would apply to all European for-profit platforms, including websites and apps.

All online platforms would have to install upload filters, continuously checking for copyright infringement, except under three of the following criteria:

  • Platform/site available to the public for less than 3 years.
  • Annual turnover falls below €10 million ($11.4 million).
  • Fewer than 5 million unique monthly visitors.

Indeed, UGC networks and platforms like Facebook are being widely blamed for everything from mass copyright infringement to the breeding of extremist views.  But one fear about a removal of Section 230 is that lawmakers could specifically target free speech on social media.

In another dystopian scenario, law enforcement officials could openly prosecute tech firms for users who post dissenting opinions and content.

There are even nightmare scenarios for content platforms.  On the music industry side, Spotify or Apple Music could find themselves in trouble for uploading music from an artist with unflattering lyrics about a certain politician or company.  Lawmakers might openly sue or prosecute a Spotify user, Spotify itself, or the social network.

But sweeping safe harbor protections remain a serious matter for the music industry.  And despite concerns over 230, reforms around safe harbor provisions for content like music videos and protected content would be welcomed throughout the US-based industry.



15 Responses

  1. Sooooooo

    so Theoretically if I wanted to if I owned a social media platform or anything really I could stop her and her party from posting and then argue “technically” that as a
    “Responsible” member I saw her words as threatening to others and dangerous to the political landscape and if she argued otherwise I could remind her I am now responsible for what happens on said platform and she is no longer allowed to advertise and this will expand to her party if she continues with such actions.

  2. I Have Mixed Feelings

    Section 230 is both good and bad.
    Good, Because it allows platforms to flourish and grow, Bad because it can’t stop online trolls harassing people.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah but even those trolls are better for the internet then the trolls in congress once they get done gutting everything.
      If anything it will make the problem worse because the guy who keeps going after everyone will go after everyone with a lawyer with a congressman woman trying the same after.

      • You Do Have A Good Pint

        You do give off a good point about how changing 230 would be extremely risky.

  3. Auteur

    This reads like the kind of drivel Mike Masnick would write.

    Section 230 is nothing more than a way for gigantic tech corporations to do whatever they want with impunity.

    Why exactly are we doing this for them again? When was the last time they “innovated” ANYTHING? They’re just looking to keep their stock price high.

    • Anonymous

      John shut up no one still likes you over at the dirt lol

    • Yeah

      “When was the last time they innovated anything”

      Yeah auteur when was the last time you as a benefactor of this and congress were innovative about anything except run arounds?

  4. ©

    I feel very mixed on this. I think that social media platforms NEED to do a better job at banning hate content, but I also don’t think it should be treated as them saying the things to begin with.

    I truly think that a better resolution would be to get rid of online anonymity. (I say while posting this comment anonymously)

    • Natalie

      Google used to ban online anonymity actually. It failed and was reversed. ( It had two big problems. First, it forced transgender people who hadn’t yet legally transitioned to use their deadnames (I happen to be trans, and for some of us, it takes years after coming out before we’re ready to legally change our names). Perhaps more importantly, activists and journalists living in authoritarian countries were forced to use their legal names, opening them up to government persecution.
      Plus, such a rule wouldn’t stop people from using a fake name anyway, unless they REALLY wanted to violate our freedoms and privacy by requiring sites to make users give their social security numbers when signing up. With how much governments have been screwing up the open internet, it wouldn’t surprise me of they did that.

  5. Heavenly

    This is nothing but the legacy corporate media oligarchs trying to destroy the internet, and they’re using puppet Pelosi and all the lunatics in Silicon Valley to outlaw certain viewpoints, criticism, and alternative media voices by forcing platforms to become publishers. The networks long for the days when everything they spewed became fact.

    Look into all the court decisions involving Section 230 over the years. It provides excellent protection for all types of companies and individuals. Take away 230 and who can afford to police everything and act as they wish? Facebook, Twitter, and maybe a few others.

  6. Reality

    None of you need to discuss this, even publishing the story is a waste. She made this announcement purely for fundraising purposes. Now the lobbyists will send checks for the upcoming election. There’s nothing more to it. American politics at it’s purest.

  7. EQ

    230 should NOT go away. The purpose is to allow the tech platforms to remain open without fear of legal retribution, to allow citizens to voice their opinions in the same way they can anywhere else. It’s an extension of the 1st amendment! The challenge is that now people have an exponentially larger platform, which sucks for people who spew hate speech. That said, no big problem is easy to solve and only cultural change of some kind will be the solution. Forcibly silencing voices or putting tech companies on the hook for the speech of citizens is definitely not the answer.

    • Very True

      You are absolutely right about hate speech being a major problem and about it being way too hard to get rid of. The real solution is for those who spew hate to have a change of heart and be kinder to people.

  8. Pebah

    Early in the discussion of immunity for platforms was the comparison to the use of existing services, such criminals communicating via telephone–the telephone company wasn’t liable for this activity. However, the telephone was a relatively private platform. Tech platforms today are public, like the various news media of past and present. However, the greater issue is the Internet itself, specifically the Web, which is very often considered by its users as a gigantic publisher in its own right, with websites as individual outlets. In the old days, the news and other publishing media was generally considered as a source of reliable information. That belief was transferred to the Web.

    There was a theory that reliable sources of published information was available in this sequence, in order of least to most reliable: broadcast (radio and TV), newspaper, books. The Web was considered initially somewhere around the newspaper in the sequence. It is now diffused throughout the sequence, but especially ahead of broadcast, to be the least reliable–in essence, word of mouth.

    However, word of mouth is how people talk to one another without interference of government or other institutions, commercial and otherwise. Taking that away changes us to be as Stalinist Russia, and other repressive regimes, where people are afraid to speak their mind for the risk of being turned in. Making the tech platforms into government sanctioned suppressors of speech is a path we as a nation haven’t yet chosen to traverse.