Attorney General William Barr attacked Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act on Wednesday, suggesting that online platforms have not done enough to tackle sex trafficking and other problems that plague the Internet.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) hosted a workshop regarding Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is the provision that grants online platforms immunity from frivolous lawsuits when they host content on their platforms.
The attorney general claimed that large Internet platforms have avoided responsibility for “selling illegal and faulty products, connecting terrorists [and] facilitating child sexual exploitation.”
“Online services … have evoked [legal] immunity even where they solicited or encouraged unlawful conduct, shared in illegal proceeds or helped perpetrators hide from law enforcement,” Barr added.
Attorney General Barr blamed the federal courts for granting such a “broad interpretation” of the statute. The attorney general noted that the DOJ has yet to take an official position on Section 230.
Barr said that they could not delegate their law enforcement obligations to social media companies.
“Law enforcement cannot delegate our obligations to protect the safety of the American people purely to the judgment of profit-seeking private firms,” Barr said. “We must shape the incentives for companies to create a safer environment, which is what Section 230 was originally intended to do.”
The attorney general noted that the social media landscape has become more concentrated since Congress enacted the Communications Decency Act. Barr added that in the 1990s, online platforms simply hosted forums; in contrast, Facebook, Google, and other companies also provide their own content.
Barr largely attacked social media companies’ legal immunity that protects platforms for hosting content; however, he did not speak much of the “good faith” clause in Section 230 that allows social media companies to censor “obscene, lewd,” and other objectionable content. Many tech experts and conservatives argue that social media companies abuse the good faith clause to censor conservative and alternative content on the Internet.
“With these new tools, the line between passively hosting third-party speech and actively curating and promoting speech starts to blur,” he said.