2020 is the challenging year that just won’t go away, however much we wish it would, as many current issues over First Amendment freedoms flop over into the new year.
In the broad realm of freedom of speech, there’s little doubt debate will continue in the new Congress around the tangential First Amendment controversy over legal protections for companies hosting content on the web — aka Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.
The law largely removes liability from companies for user-posted content on their sites. While not directly a First Amendment issue, the fight does have major implications for users’ free speech on the web, as we know it today, as well for as social media companies’ rights.
President Donald J. Trump and conservatives claim the provision is being used to hide partisan discrimination by major technology companies against right-wing voices. Liberal critics say the law removes incentives for such online operations to seriously fight misinformation.
Advocates for keeping the law “as is” say that without it, social media companies would face a myriad of potential lawsuits and thus dramatically limit what users can freely post on sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp and Instagram. No company will be able moderate the web’s current traffic, they say, estimated by multiple sources at 500,000 hours of user video uploaded to YouTube, 188 million emails and 18 million texts every minute.