Dec 1, 2020 - Technology

Scoop: Senators offer to slip Section 230 changes into defense bill

An illustration of mouse cursors pointing at a shield.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Trump administration is pressing Congress to repeal the tech industry's prized liability shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, as part of a must-pass end-of-year defense-spending authorization bill, sources tell Axios, while Senate Republicans try to improvise a more limited change.

Between the lines: The last-minute maneuvering shows that the White House is hoping bipartisan animus against Big Tech will help it notch a win on the topic before Trump leaves office.

Why it matters: As Republicans complain about bias against conservatives and Democrats decry tech platforms' failure to control misinformation, repealing or limiting Section 230 has become a favorite remedy for both — but tech companies argue that such changes would lead to chaos in the online industry.

What's happening: A source familiar with the negotiations told Axios that Sen. Roger Wicker, Republican chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has proposed that his bill limiting Section 230 protections be included in the National Defense Authorization Act.

But, but, but: It's a long shot, for political and logistical reasons.

  • The White House has pushed lawmakers to insert a repeal of Section 230 into the NDAA, as part of a compromise that would have President Trump sign the bill even though he's opposed to a provision that renames military bases that are named for Confederate leaders.
  • But Senate Republicans are instead trying to negotiate an alternative that would combine multiple bills aimed at reforming the law, including the bipartisan Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act and Wicker's Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act, a Hill source familiar with the matter told Axios.

The bottom line: It appears Republicans are open to the White House's buzzer-beater policy goals, but Democrats are sure to object.

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