ACLU Statement on Latest Congressional Attempt to Dismantle Free Speech Online

May 22, 2024 10:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The House Energy and Commerce Committee had a Communications and Technology Subcommittee legislative hearing today on a bill that would effectively end Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. If repealed, social media platforms would be likely to over-censor users’ posts or restrict posting altogether, threatening users’ ability to express themselves online.

“Section 230 has created space for social movements; enabled platforms to host the speech of activists and organizers; and allowed users and content creators on sites like Instagram, TikTok, and Twitch to reach an audience and make a living,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at the ACLU. “If this vital protection is taken away, people could find their voices censored, especially when talking about ideas that are under political attack today: race and racism, sexuality, and gender justice. Platforms must be able to host user speech without the threat of constant lawsuits.”

Much of the debate around Section 230 has revolved around whether it gives platforms “unlimited immunity” from legal consequences. As the ACLU and other First Amendment experts have repeatedly explained: This is not true. To the contrary, platforms and users are liable for their own illegal actions. What Section 230 does is protect platforms from being held responsible for hosting user posts, which is crucial for allowing free speech to thrive online.

Moreover, Section 230 enables platforms to keep problematic content off of their sites because it provides that platforms can moderate without risking liability for the speech they do host. By empowering platforms to remove objectionable content, Section 230 is actually what enables platforms to protect children.

The ACLU is urging lawmakers to reject congressional proposals to sunset Section 230.

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