Senators warn Big Tech on Section 230: ‘Reform is coming’

US senators said Wednesday that bipartisan support is growing for revising a federal immunity law for tech platforms and websites known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a warning aimed squarely at large social media platforms.

“Here’s a message to Big Tech: Reform is coming,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who chaired a technology subcommittee hearing to consider changes to the law.

“I can’t predict it’ll be in the next couple of weeks, or the next couple of months,” Blumenthal said. “But if you listen, you will hear a mounting consensus and a demand from the American public that we need to act in a bipartisan way.”

Wednesday marked the second hearing in a month by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have vowed to expand the number and kinds of lawsuits tech platforms may have to face.

Lawmakers from both parties praised the Supreme Court for considering Section 230 when it heard Gonzalez v. Google, a case about whether YouTube can be sued for algorithmically suggesting terrorist-created videos to users. The case could have major repercussions for how social media sites rank, present and promote content online.

But the senators said that however the Court rules, it is up to Congress to rewrite the law so that members of the public can take platforms to court and hold them accountable.

Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, a vocal tech industry critic, acknowledged that the effort to revise Section 230 has been “very slow.”

“As a Republican, I would love to blame that on my Democrat colleagues,” Hawley said. “But the sad fact of the matter is, Republicans are just as much to blame, if not more.”

Republicans and Democrats have generally agreed that changing Section 230 should be a legislative priority, but they have disagreed about why and how the law should be updated. Where Republicans have attacked Section 230 for allegedly giving tech platforms a free pass to remove conservative content, Democrats have said the problem with the law is that it immunizes platforms despite their failure to remove misinformation and hate speech.

“My own side of the aisle, when it comes to vindicating the rights of citizens to get into court, to have their day in court, is often very, very slow to endorse that approach and very, very wary,” Hawley said. “But I think the time has come to say we must give individuals, we must give parents, we must give kids and victims that most basic right.”