WASHINGTON — Former President Donald J. Trump called multiple times for repealing the law that shields tech companies from legal responsibility over what people post. President Biden, as a candidate, said the law should be “revoked.”
But the lawmakers aiming to weaken the law have started to agree on a different approach. They are increasingly focused on eliminating protections for specific kinds of content rather than making wholesale changes to the law or eliminating it entirely.
That has still left them a question with potentially wide-ranging outcomes: What, exactly, should lawmakers cut?
One bill introduced last month would strip the protections from content the companies are paid to distribute, like ads, among other categories. A different proposal, expected to be reintroduced from the last congressional session, would allow people to sue when a platform amplified content linked to terrorism. And another that is likely to return would exempt content from the law only when a platform failed to follow a court’s order to take it down.
open to trimming the law, an effort to shape changes they see as increasingly likely to happen. Facebook and Google, the owner of YouTube, have signaled that they are willing to work with lawmakers changing the law, and some smaller companies recently formed a lobbying group to shape any changes.
December op-ed that was co-written by Bruce Reed, Mr. Biden’s deputy chief of staff, said that “platforms should be held accountable for any content that generates revenue.” The op-ed also said that while carving out specific types of content was a start, lawmakers would do well to consider giving platforms the entire liability shield only on the condition that they properly moderate content.
Supporters of Section 230 say even small changes could hurt vulnerable people. They point to the 2018 anti-trafficking bill, which sex workers say made it harder to vet potential clients online after some of the services they used closed, fearing new legal liability. Instead, sex workers have said they must now risk meeting with clients in person without using the internet to ascertain their intentions at a safe distance.
Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who co-wrote Section 230 while in the House, said measures meant to address disinformation on the right could be used against other political groups in the future.
“If you remember 9/11, and you had all these knee-jerk reactions to those horrible tragedies,” he said. “I think it would be a huge mistake to use the disgusting, nauseating attacks on the Capitol as a vehicle to suppress free speech.”
Industry officials say carve-outs to the law could nonetheless be extremely difficult to carry out.
“I appreciate that some policymakers are trying to be more specific about what they don’t like online,” said Kate Tummarello, the executive director of Engine, an advocacy group for small companies. “But there’s no universe in which platforms, especially small platforms, will automatically know when and where illegal speech is happening on their site.”