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GOP Senators Ask FCC to ‘Clearly Define’ Section 230 Protections for Big Tech

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 5, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

Four Senate Republicans sent a letter to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) on Tuesday asking for the agency to act on President Trump’s executive order regarding tech censorship by “clearly” defining Section 230 liability protections for social media platforms.

Senators Marco Rubio (R., Fl.), Kelly Loeffler (R., Ga.), Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.), and Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) asked FCC chairman Ajit Pai to address “a lack of clear rules” and the “judicial expansion” of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects platforms from civil liability in instances when third-party posts contain false or misleading information.

“Section 230 … plainly immunizes computer service providers like AOL from liability for information that originates with third parties,” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote in a 1997 opinion after the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals heard the first challenge to the law.

But the Republicans argue that the law has been abused in regard to political speech, where social media companies “blur the lines between distributor and publisher by favoring one political point of view over another.”

“Social media companies have become involved in a range of editorial and promotional activity; like publishers, they monetize, edit, and otherwise editorialize user content. It is time to take a fresh look at Section 230 and to interpret the vague standard of ‘good faith’ with specific guidelines and direction,” the senators explain.

The letter comes after Trump issued an executive order last month to challenge liability protections after Twitter fact-checked a series of his tweets in which the president criticized voting-by-mail as susceptible to fraud.

The order itself calls for the Trump administration to “file a petition for rulemaking with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting that the FCC expeditiously propose regulations to clarify” Section 230. It is unclear to what extent the senators worked with the White House to raise their concerns.

Hawley, an outspoken critic of Section 230, has backed the president’s proposals, arguing that Twitter and Google “should be treated like traditional publishers and stop receiving the special carve out from the federal government.”

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