Dozens Of Human Rights Group Tell Congress: Do Not Gut Section 230 On Our Behalf; It’ll Do More Harm Than Good

from the say-it-loud dept

As Congress (on both sides of the aisle) continues to explore new and dumber ways to wreck Section 230, often claiming that they need to do it to “protect” or “help” certain people or groups, over 70 civil rights, human rights, and social justice groups have sent a letter to Congress and the new administration, telling them that they are targeting the wrong thing, and that destroying the open internet will do a lot more harm than good.

Gutting Section 230 would make it more difficult for web platforms to combat the type of dangerous rhetoric that led to the attack on the Capitol. And certain carve outs to the law could threaten human rights and silence movements for social and racial justice that are needed now more than ever.

Section 230 is a foundational law for free expression and human rights when it comes to digital speech. It makes it possible for websites and online forums to host the opinions, photos, videos, memes, and creativity of ordinary people, rather than just content that is backed by corporations.

The danger posed by uncareful changes to Section 230 is not theoretical. The last major change to the law, the passage of SESTA/FOSTA in 2018, put lives in danger. The impacts of this law were immediate and destructive, limiting the accounts of sex workers and making it more difficult to find and help those who were being trafficked online. This was widely seen as a disaster that made vulnerable communities less safe and led to widespread removal of speech online. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ro Khanna have sponsored legislation to investigate the harm done by SESTA/FOSTA. Lawmakers should pass this bill and examine past mistakes before modifying Section 230, and should hold hearings on the human rights and civil liberties implications of altering the law before legislating further. Overly broad changes to Section 230 could disproportionately harm and silence marginalized people, whose voices have been historically ignored by mainstream press outlets. For example, social media platforms would be unlikely to host viral videos of police violence that have spurred nationwide uprisings for racial justice if they faced constant litigation from law enforcement for doing so.

The effort was put together by the always wonderful Fight for the Future, and has some amazing signatories, including Wikimedia, Access Now, Common Cause, Data for Black Lives, Global Voices, Hollaback!, Lucy Parsons Labs, Media Justice, National Black Justice Coalition, National Lawyers Guild, PEN America, Public Knowledge, and many others that work on civil rights for various marginalized groups. Since the changes to 230 that are often proposed are put forth with misleading claims about how they’re meant to “protect” these groups, it’s great to see them speaking out and effectively saying “not in my name.”

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Filed Under: civil rights, human rights, section 230, social justice