Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act is as short as it is potent — and it’s worth getting familiar with. It 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.”
When asked about Section 230, Pelosi referred to the law as a “gift” to tech companies that have leaned heavily on the law to grow their business. That provision, providing tech platforms legal cover for content created by their users, is what allowed services like Facebook, YouTube and many others to swell into the massive companies they are today.
It is a gift to them and I don’t think that they are 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 is not out of the question that that could be removed.
Expect to hear a lot more about Section 230. In recent months, a handful of Republicans in Congress have taken aim at the law. Section 230 is what’s between the lines in Devin Nunes’ recent lawsuit accusing critics for defaming him on Twitter. It’s also the extremely consequential subtext beneath conservative criticism that Twitter, Facebook and Google do not run “neutral” platforms.
While the idea of stripping away Section 230 is by no means synonymous with broader efforts to regulate big tech, it is the nuclear option. And when tech’s most massive companies behave badly, it’s a reminder to some of them that their very existences hinge on 26 words that Congress giveth and Congress can taketh away.
Whatever the political motivations, imperiling Section 230 is a fearsome cudgel against even tech’s most seemingly untouchable companies. While it’s not clear what some potentially misguided lawmakers would stand to gain by dismantling the law, Pelosi’s comments are a reminder that tech’s biggest companies and users alike have everything to lose.