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Not Big Tech steps up in Washington

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Feb 8, 2024
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Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

There's a new trade association in town for small tech companies, mostly to advocate for the bedrock law allowing platforms to moderate and remove third-party content.

The latest: Internet Works, which has been a pro-Section 230 coalition for the past three years, is now a formal trade association, per an announcement shared exclusively with Axios.

  • Internet Works has 18 members, including Discord, Dropbox, eBay, Etsy, Expedia Group, Pinterest, Nextdoor, Reddit, Tripadvisor and Yelp.
  • It's now a 501(c)(6), aka an official business association.

Context: Once upon a time in Washington, there was a trade group (RIP, the Internet Association) that aimed to be the unified voice of the Internet economy in its burgeoning days.

  • That group dissolved once it became painfully clear that the interests of Big Tech diverge from those of small and medium-sized tech companies, and competition became a hot topic.

Why it matters: Big Tech has many battles to fight, and in the age of constant antitrust scrutiny both in the U.S. and abroad, the companies often go it alone.

  • But threats to Section 230, the 1996 internet law that allows people to freely post online while giving platforms the ability both to set rules for and take down content without being held liable, remain potent.

What they're saying: "We're trying to expand our scope not just to federal policy, but to state policy and also in the legal realm as well," Laura Bisesto, global head of policy and privacy at Nextdoor, serving as chair of Internet Works' board, told Axios.

  • "I think there's a continued threat to Section 230; you continue to hear calls for its total removal or to be amended in certain ways," she said, adding that many state-level bills don't directly address Section 230 but should be preempted by it.
  • "We're looking at a place where the internet is about to be regulated by 50 different states instead of a single market.… One of the main reasons we incorporated was to be able to vocalize ourselves at the states. The companies [in Internet Works] don't have huge lobbying teams."
  • Aaron Schur, general counsel at Yelp, said: "When people talk about the impacts of legislation, they're talking about Big Tech. This allows us to be a counterpoint … and tell a very distinct story about how we view these proposals or laws, and provide a counterweight."

The big picture: State-level content bills will keep Internet Works busy. They include Texas' and Florida's attempts to keep tech platforms from removing certain speech based on politics, and a continued legislative push to protect children online that would potentially blunt Section 230.

Our thought bubble: Big Tech also cares about Section 230 and certainly isn't advocating for its repeal.

  • But given those companies' vast resources, they're much more willing to accept changes.
  • Small- and medium-sized tech companies worry that any changes to Section 230 will upend their business models and bring on lawsuits.

In other personnel news, Matt Jensen of Indeed will be vice chair of the board. The group is actively recruiting an executive director.

  • Caitlin Brosseau of TripAdvisor will serve as treasurer.
  • Erika Barros of Vimeo will be secretary.
  • Franklin Square Group will continue to handle its federal lobbying.
  • Bisesto said the group will be visiting Capitol Hill for meetings with members of committees that have jurisdiction over Section 230: "We want to continue to bring awareness of our group, and within the election cycle, make sure we have visibility as things change."
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