Yesterday, TechFreedom was joined by distinguished scholars of First Amendment, Internet, and technology law in a letter to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce regarding today’s hearing entitled “Legislative Proposal to Sunset Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.” The letter explained that sunsetting Section 230 without an existing plan for replacing it is a reckless endeavor that would allow Congress to hold free speech and the open Internet hostage to partisan gamesmanship and congressional chaos.

Section 230 has enabled an unprecedented democratization of speech,” said Ari Cohn, Free Speech Counsel at TechFreedom. “The boundless capacity for user-generated content could not have been unlocked—and cannot be maintained—in America’s uniquely expensive legal system without Section 230.” Proponents of sunsetting this vital law assert that it will have no effect on free speech, because the First Amendment ultimately safeguards that core liberty. “Such claims ignore the profound speech-enabling effects that Section 230 layers on top of the First Amendment,” Cohn countered. “Those effects are what make hosting user-generated content feasible; the First Amendment will provide little solace to users who find far fewer places in which to speak.”

Putting an expiration date on Section 230 will hold the Internet and free speech hostage to partisan gamesmanship,” Cohn continued. “Congress has failed to enact Section 230 reform because its members have antithetical, yet equally unconstitutional, goals: some would use Section 230 reform to penalize platforms for hosting ‘harmful’ yet protected speech, while others would coerce platforms into hosting that same speech against their will. Sunsetting Section 230 would subject the Internet to the same chaos associated with the National Defense Authorization Act and other must-pass bills. The future of freedom of expression online will be shaped not by careful policymaking, but by political horse-trading and power dynamics.”

“The myopic focus on Big Tech shows that legislators are not thinking enough about the broader Internet,” Cohn concluded. “Section 230 is vital to competition. It allows competitors to challenge dominant platforms by promising to better address the concerns of users (and Congress) without the fear of crippling liability. Sunsetting Section 230 advantages entrenched interests: dominant platforms can gain a comparative leg up by using their considerable influence to shape the new regime in a way that imposes greater relative costs on competitors—or they may just run out the clock.”


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