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Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty Images

The long-standing but now hotly contested law that keeps online platforms from being held liable for what users post should be narrowed, conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote Tuesday.

Why it matters: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a growing target of bipartisan ire. Thomas, arguably the most conservative member of the Supreme Court, is laying down a marker as the likely confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett looks set to tip the high court further right.

Driving the news: Thomas wrote about Section 230 in a filing following the court's decision not to hear a Section 230-related case, MalwareBytes Inc. v. Enigma Software Group.

  • Thomas said his fellow justices were right to pass on the case, which centered on whether MalwareBytes, an internet security company, could be held liable for what Enigma Software said was a wrongful designation of its products as malware.
  • But he said it should welcome the chance to scale back Section 230 from the bench through a different case.

What he's saying: "Extending §230 immunity beyond the natural reading of the text can have serious consequences," Thomas wrote, adding that when the right case comes to the court, it would "behoove" the justices to consider a narrower reading of the law.

  • Thomas wrote that internet companies have been granted "sweeping protection" and that courts are reading more comprehensive immunity into Section 230 than was intended.

The other side: Internet companies and the law's authors have long argued that the purpose of Section 230 was to allow companies to moderate online content and remove material as they see fit — and that companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and Yelp couldn't exist in their current form without the law.

Yes, but: Those defenses have a shrinking constituency in Washington.

  • Republicans including President Donald Trump now argue the law acts as a license for tech platforms to censor conservative views. (There's little to no evidence for these claims of anti-conservative bias, which the platforms deny.)
  • Democrats including Joe Biden have said Congress should revisit Section 230 to make tech firms more accountable for misinformation and hate speech.

Reality check: A number of Section 230-related bills have circulated in Congress in the past year. None stand a change of passing before 2021.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Jan 20, 2021 - Technology

Why domestic terrorists are so hard to police online

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Domestic terrorism has proven to be more difficult for Big Tech companies to police online than foreign terrorism.

The big picture: That's largely because the politics are harder. There's more unity around the need to go after foreign extremists than domestic ones — and less danger of overreaching and provoking a backlash.

Updated 7 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

53 mins ago - Health

CDC director says COVID-19 messaging should have been clearer

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic and changing guidance should have been clearer.

State of play: Walensky is being coached by media experts and is planning to have more press briefings by herself in order to ensure that CDC is seen as an independent, scientific entity, rather than as a political one, the Journal reports.