Free Press Action Pleased to See Beto O’Rourke Challenge White-Supremacist Violence but Skeptical of Proposal to Weaken Section 230

Yet adding in a government requirement that companies adopt such recommendations comes with its own challenges and could undermine the effort to curb online hate.

Free Press Action Pleased to See Beto O’Rourke Challenge White-Supremacist Violence but Skeptical of Proposal to Weaken Section 230

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke announced on Friday his plan to combat hate and violence in the United States. The candidate’s proposal includes requiring large social-media platforms to create systems designed to remove hateful activities on their sites. He seeks to codify many of the recommendations that the Change the Terms coalition, of which Free Press is a founding member, has been pressuring social media platforms to adopt.

Yet adding in a government requirement that companies adopt such recommendations comes with its own challenges and could undermine the effort to curb online hate. O’Rourke proposes amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act “to remove legal immunity from lawsuits for large social media platforms that fail to change their terms of service and put in place systems as described above.”

Free Press Action Senior Policy Counsel Carmen Scurato made the following statement:

“Beto O’Rourke identifies the right problems fueling white-supremacist violence but one of his answers falls short. We’re pleased to see the former congressman highlighting many of Change the Terms’ policy recommendations for disrupting hatred and racism online, but we at Free Press Action are skeptical of his vague proposal to alter Section 230 protections as punishment for those that don’t follow these guidelines.

“Section 230 ensures that tech companies can take aggressive measures to moderate content on their sites. It enables them to adopt the policies put forward by Change the Terms to disrupt hateful activities. The devil is in the details, but tampering with Section 230 could undermine the important work of Change the Terms and curtail free expression online.

“Removing or weakening certain liability exemptions in Section 230 actually would impair internet companies’ ability to decide what they host and promote. It could require them to step back from moderation altogether, or could push towards the opposite extreme and encourage more indiscriminate blocking and takedowns of speech. The reason for that is quite simple: if a website were liable for content generated by third parties, that website’s risk-tolerance for such third-party content would drop precipitously. ‘Block first, ask questions later’ would become the norm. This would likely include the blocking of content from organizations and individuals fighting the spread of racism. Removing this liability exemption could have the opposite effect of O’Rourke’s apparent goals.”