Section 230: An Explanation of ‘the Internet’s Favorite Law’

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  • Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “Section 230: An Explanation of ‘the Internet’s Favorite Law'” – below is their description.

    In a characteristic outburst this week, President Donald Trump threatened to defund the military if Congress didn’t revoke part of a 24-year old telecommunications law. The provision, usually referred to as Section 230, protects companies like Facebook Inc. from legal liability for user-generated content. It’s widely viewed as foundational to the modern internet.

    Congress pressed ahead with the Defense bill and didn’t repeal Section 230, even though many Republicans say they want to. And it’s safe to assume they’ll continue to make noise about undermining the provision. But now that Democrats are taking over the executive branch, expect Congressional Republicans to shift gears on tech policy. Instead of trying to rewrite key internet legislation, the GOP will likely focus instead on stopping Democrats from doing anything at all.

    A prime example of this dynamic is this week’s maneuvering around the Federal Communications Commission. A Senate committee voted Wednesday to advance Trump’s nomination of Nathan Simington to the commission, a move that could deadlock the FCC between Democratic and Republican commissioners.

    At first glance, Simington’s imminent confirmation seems like yet another Trump gambit to undermine Section 230. Earlier this year the president asked the FCC to review the law’s protections, a request that Simington helped write. After Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, an otherwise reliable Trump ally, expressed doubt about using the FCC to weaken the law, Trump withdrew O’Rielly’s renomination and put forward Simington instead.

    Lawmakers have expressed concern about Simington’s involvement in the administration’s efforts around Section 230. Last month, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said he’d block the nomination unless Simington recused himself from any votes on the issue. Simington wouldn’t commit to doing so, but it doesn’t much matter because there isn’t going to be a vote. In a Joe Biden administration, the chair of the FCC will be a Democrat, and they’ll likely just let the issue drop.

    Of course, from a Republican perspective, Simington’s value as an FCC commissioner won’t be actually to do anything himself, but to keep other commissioners from doing things. Once FCC Chair Ajit Pai steps down in January, there will be four members left. And if the Trump administration doesn’t appoint someone else in the coming weeks, the Biden administration will start with a 2-1 majority on the five-member commission.

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