Originally Appeared: Morning Consult on October 27, 2020
It’s no secret that politicians from both sides of the aisle have set their sights on Section 230 as the mechanism for “fixing” any number of things they don’t like about online platforms. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said it should be “revoked, immediately.” President Donald Trump raises his concerns with the law in nearly every conversation he has with senators. Before this year ends, there will be at least half a dozen hearings and twice that number of bills introduced to amend this frequently misunderstood law.
But crucially, the criticisms aimed at the law from the right and left are inherently contradictory, and it is therefore impossible to imagine them leading to productive outcomes. The left claims that Section 230 allows bad actors to misuse online services for illicit purposes unchecked, while the rallying cry of the right is that Section 230 enables private actors to “censor” content with impunity. This bipartisan, but incompatible, set of grievances led the Senate Commerce Committee to bring the CEOs of major tech companies to testify about concerns surrounding Section 230 this week.
Regardless of whether you consider either party’s critiques compelling, they most certainly can’t both be true simultaneously — and amending or “revoking” Section 230 in a misguided effort to both increase and decrease content moderation will have dire consequences. Establishing a legal mandate that platforms must make perfect decisions about what to keep up and take down by imposing immense legal penalties for making a single mistake is bad policy. It also fails to acknowledge that everyone has a different opinion about what “perfect” moderation looks like.