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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The debate in Washington is heating up again this week over whether and how to update Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes online platforms against lawsuits over moderation practices and user-posted content.

Why it matters: Chipping away at the shield may be a more potent threat to the tech industry than stepped-up antitrust enforcement. It can be done in one fell legislative swoop — as happened two years ago — rather than requiring lengthy, uncertain court proceedings.

Driving the news: The Senate Commerce internet and communications subcommittee on Tuesday will hold a hearing on a bipartisan bill to add transparency requirements to Section 230. Witnesses include former Rep. Chris Cox, who co-wrote the law in the mid-1990s with Sen. Ron Wyden.

  • GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, a vocal Section 230 critic, unveiled a new bill on Tuesday to take away immunity from tech companies that track users around the web and target ads at them based on their activity.
  • A Commerce Department agency Monday asked the Federal Communications Commission to start the process of writing regulations to limit the circumstances in which Section 230 protections apply. The Commerce petition stems from President Trump's push to narrow Section 230 by executive order.
  • Tech trade group the Internet Association on Monday issued findings after reviewing more than 500 lawsuits in which Section 230 was used as a defense. In most of those cases, judges didn't rely on Section 230 in making a ruling, IA found.

Between the lines: IA, which is also sending its deputy general counsel to the Senate hearing, is suggesting in its review that Section 230 doesn’t offer platforms blanket immunity, but protections that the courts evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

  • That’s a counter to claims from Attorney General Bill Barr and others, who maintain that Section 230 lets huge platforms get away with censoring political opponents (a charge for which there’s no clear evidence).

Be smart: The fight over Section 230 is less about its merit and efficacy as a legal defense and more about finding a way to hold tech accountable for perceived failures.

Our thought bubble: Legislation taking aim at Section 230 is less of a moonshot than seeking to break up tech giants. But it still may be a tall order to move any major tech legislation before the November election.

Go deeper

Oct 28, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Right-wing misinformation could gain steam post-election

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With less than a week until the 2020 election, researchers have expressed concern that the information ecosystem today is ripe for an unprecedented level of exploitation by bad actors, particularly hyper-partisan media and personalities on the right.

Why it matters: The misinformation-powered right-wing media machine that fueled Donald Trump's 2016 victory grew stronger after that win, and it's set to increase its reach as a result of the upcoming election, whether Trump wins or loses.

Oct 28, 2020 - Technology

Jack Dorsey: Twitter has no influence over elections

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said Twitter does not have the ability to influence elections because there are ample additional sources of information, in response to questioning from Republican Sen. Ted Cruz during a hearing Wednesday.

Between the lines: The claim is sure to stir irritation on both the right and left. Conservatives argue Twitter and Facebook's moderation decisions help Democrats, while liberals contend the platforms shy from effectively cracking down on misinformation to appease Republicans.

Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 2 far-right "America First" activists

The House panel investigating the Capitol riot, from left; Reps. Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger and Jamie Raskin on Capitol Hill in December. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Capitol riot issued subpoenas Wednesday for far-right leaders Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey, who allegedly encouraged followers to go to D.C. and challenge the 2020 election results.

Why it matters: The action underscores the panel's increasing focus on rallies held ahead of the Capitol attack and how extremists were drawn to former President Trump's baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, per the New York Times.

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