What’s in the law protecting platform businesses – and can President Trump change it?

Platform Industry: President Trump, Social Media, Section 230 and Fake News

The US Justice Department on Wednesday issued a proposal to reform a legal resistance for online companies and follows through on President Donald J Trump’s bid from earlier this year to crack down on tech giants.


The proposal intends to curb Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides large tech platforms such as Google and Facebook protections from liability over content published by users.

The core goal of Section 230 is to protect the owners of any “interactive computer service” from liability for anything posted by third parties. The idea was that such protection was necessary to promote the development of new kinds of services and communications in the dawn of the Internet era.

Section 230 was enacted in 1996 as part of a law called the Communications Decency Act, which had been primarily aimed at curbing online porn. Nearly all of the law has been struck down by the courts as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech, but Section 230 remains.

In practice, the legislation shields any website or service that hosts content – like information outlets’ comment sections, video services like YouTube and social media services like Facebook and Twitter – from lawsuits over content posted by users.

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The technology industry and others have long held that Section 230 is a crucial protection, though the statute has become increasingly controversial as the power of internet companies has grown.

One famous case involved a lawsuit by Stratton Oakmont, the brokerage firm depicted in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Wolf of Wall Street,” contrary to the ancient online service Prodigy. The court found that Prodigy was liable for allegedly defamatory comments by an individual since it was a publisher that moderated the material on the service.

The fledgling net industry was stressed that such liability would make a range of new solutions hopeless. Congress ultimately agreed and comprised Section 230 in the Communications Decency Act.


President Trump and others who have assaulted Section 230 say it has given large internet companies also much legal protection and allowed them to escape responsibility for their own actions.

Some conservatives, including the president, have alleged that they are subject to online censorship on social media websites, a claim the companies have normally denied.

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Section 230, which is often misinterpreted, does not require sites to be impartial. Most legal experts believe any effort to take political neutrality by social media companies would be a breach of their First Amendment’s free speech protections.


In a word, no. Only Congress has the power to change Section 230. In 2018, the law was modified to make it feasible to prosecute platforms that were utilised by alleged sex traffickers. Since the power of online companies has grown, some in Congress have also advocated changes to hold companies accountable for the spread of articles celebrating acts of terror, as an instance, or to get some types of hate speech.

A social media executive order signed by Trump in May, following Twitter fact-checked his post, said he will introduce legislation that will refuse or weaken 230.

Trump also directed the Commerce Department to file a petition requesting the Federal Communication Commission to limit protections under Section 230. The request is still pending.


On Wednesday, Justice Department proposed that Congress take up legislation to curb this. It suggests a series of reforms to guarantee internet businesses are transparent about their conclusions when eliminating content and when they need to be held accountable for language they modify. In addition, it revises existing definitions of Section 230 using more tangible language that offers more guidance to users and courts.

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It also incentivises online platforms to address illegal content and pushes to get more clarity on national civil enforcement activities.

The bill would require congressional approval and is not likely to see action until next year at the first.

There are several pieces of legislation doing the rounds in Congress that seek to curb the exact same immunity.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed the ‘What’s in the law protecting platform businesses – and can President Trump change it?‘ article. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Jonathan Weber, Elizabeth Culliford and Nandita Bose. Additional reporting by Diane Bartz.

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