ACLU Warns of Harm to Free Speech Online if Congress Dismantles Section 230

The ACLU has long supported maintaining Section 230 of the Communications Act to promote freedom of speech and expression.

March 28, 2023 10:05 am

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WASHINGTON — In a letter to the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology subcommittee, the American Civil Liberties Union urges lawmakers to protect Section 230 of the Communications Act from amendment or repeal. The ACLU has long maintained that Section 230 has been one of the key factors enabling the robust expansion of internet-based speech – including artistic expression and political organizing.

Section 230 provides that platforms shall not be treated as the publisher or speaker of content provided by third parties, and shall not be liable for good faith efforts to remove certain types of objectionable content. As the letter explains, “Section 230 has created the internet as we know it. Platforms are able to moderate the content that third parties post on their websites, but need not be overly restrictive for fear of liability. If it were not for Section 230, platforms would refuse to host user-generated content because doing so would open them up to be investigated, shut down, sued or charged with a crime over one user’s speech.”

“Congress should not amend or repeal Section 230,” said Jenna Leventoff, ACLU senior policy counsel. “Section 230 protects the internet as we know it today – a place for people from around the country to come together for political organizing, opinion sharing and community building. ”

The ACLU has asked the Supreme Court to consider the scope of Section 230, and the responsibilities of platforms, in two cases currently awaiting decisions. One case, Google v. Gonzalez, was brought by family members of a U.S. citizen who was killed by ISIS in a 2015 terrorist attack. The suit alleges that Google’s YouTube is partially responsible for the attack, and cannot claim immunity under Section 230 because it mistakenly suggested that users view content ISIS operatives posted on the site. Another case, Twitter v. Taamneh, asks the court to consider whether Twitter may be held liable under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) for allegedly “aiding and abetting” an ISIS attack in Istanbul because Twitter failed to adequately block or remove content promoting terrorism from its platform — even though it had no actual knowledge that a specific piece of user-generated content on its platform provided substantial assistance to a terrorist act.

Both cases are a part of the ACLU’s Joan and Irwin Jacobs Supreme Court Docket.

The letter to lawmakers is available online here.

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