Leave Reform of Section 230 to Congress
CFA Submits Comments Urging the FCC to Leave Reform of Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 to Congress
By: Mark Cooper, CFA Director of Research, and Amina Abdu, CFA Antitrust Advocacy Associate
Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 is suddenly in the headlines after President Trump tweeted a call for its repeal last week when one of his tweets was flagged by the social media site as providing misinformation about COVID-19. The President’s tweet came on the heels of a proposal from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish new rules regarding Section 230.
In response to the NTIA proposal, CFA Director of Research Mark Cooper and CFA Antitrust Advocacy Associate Amina Abdu submitted comments to the FCC early last month urging the agency to leave reform of Section 230 to Congress. Section 230 provides online platforms with immunity from civil liability for third-party content and for the removal of such content in certain circumstances.
While acknowledging that “immunity from liability is a serious and important issue that should be addressed as antitrust and regulatory oversight are recalibrated to deal with the digital economy,” Cooper and Abdu argued that “it would be a mistake to deal with these challenging issues in a piecemeal, ‘siloed’ approach. A much more comprehensive review of antitrust and a new regulatory agency are necessary to address the many harms that have been visited on consumers by the dominant players in the digital communications sector,” they argued.
Cooper and Abdu recently published a series of working papers and reports to aide policymakers in addressing problems in the digital communications sector. These reports are especially relevant in this context, since “Section 230 liability raises many issues that are not simply economic in areas like privacy and universal service where the FCC has been entirely ineffective,” Cooper and Abdu stated. “Over-broad immunity also has implications beyond the communications sector in product safety, where platforms use section 230 to avoid liability under safety laws,” they added.
With the FCC likely to take very weak action on issues that fall outside its jurisdiction, such as this, Cooper and Abdu argue this is neither the time nor place for this proceeding, as a serious rebooting of antitrust and regulation of the digital communications sector is needed.
“There are serious questions about whether Section 230’s liability shield has let digital platforms get away with too much, but there is a delicate balance between protecting the Internet as we know it and preventing abuses online,” said Abdu. “We hope Congress will be up to the task of finding such a balance.”