Center for Technology and Innovation

Sec⁠t⁠⁠i⁠on 230 and The End of The In⁠t⁠erne⁠t⁠?

By: Dr. Edward Longe / 2024

Dr. Edward Longe


Center for Technology and Innovation


June 11, 2024

Few words evoke more controversy in American politics than the 26 that make up Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Often referred to as the 26 words that created the internet because it allowed innovation and discourse to flourish in the digital world, Section 230 provides online platforms such as social media sites, review boards, websites, and other digital forums a legal shield from lawsuits stemming from user-generated content posted on their sites.

While Section 230 has created the internet we know today, where ideas, innovation, and information can flow freely, it has come under relentless bipartisan criticism from Republicans and Democrats who feel large technology companies have abused the liability shield. 

Republicans have routinely argued that the protections have incentivized liberal social media platforms and other large technology companies to censor conservative speech. Democrats, on the other hand, believe that the protections afforded have allowed hate speech and misinformation to proliferate online, creating an unsafe environment for marginalized communities and destabilizing U.S. politics. 

Both parties have, in turn, used their respective criticisms to attempt to pass legislative reforms to Section 230. Most recently, Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) released a draft proposal to sunset Section 230, making platforms responsible for their users’ posts.  

While it’s easy to criticize a statute that predates the modern internet, modifying, sunsetting, or in any way changing Section 230 because of political expediency could disrupt the internet’s ecosystem, creating a less free digital world where users face reduced choice in where they can express their opinions and, paradoxically, creating an environment where users face more censorship online. Conservatives should be especially wary of any attempts to alter Section 230, as they have the most to lose. 

Anyone who proclaims ending Section 230 will fix the ills of the modern internet is simply selling snake oil. 

Claims that modifying or sunsetting Section 230 will be a silver bullet ignores the reality that these changes will lead to more censorship online, not less. Without the protections currently afforded by Section 230,  websites and other sites would be forced to employ more robust moderation practices, potentially screening all posts before they go live or placing greater restrictions on who can access their platforms. For the millions of Floridians who use the internet daily, this would mean greater restrictions placed on their speech, not less. 

Such an environment would mark a departure from the current ecosystem whereby liability protections incentivize platforms to employ a light-touch moderation policy, allowing more content to remain up and allowing almost anyone to create accounts. This, in turn, opens up users to more diverse viewpoints, ensuring that the internet remains a marketplace of ideas.

As a result of Section 230’s liability protections, Conservative speech online has flourished. Critical of mainstream social media platforms for allegedly censoring conservative speech, several alternative platforms like Truth Social, Parler, and Rumble were created. These platforms prided themselves on becoming a home for conservatives who had been censored by mainstream social media platforms. However, these newer platforms depend on Section 230 for their very survival, often embedding it into their terms of service

Without these protections, these upstart platforms would undoubtedly face a barrage of lawsuits that could easily overwhelm their limited resources and force them into bankruptcy and users back to larger incumbents. Larger platforms with sizable legal departments and greater capital resources will be better placed to face these challenges, leaving conservatives with fewer avenues to express their viewpoints.

Section 230, however, means that these upstarts are immune from lawsuits, allowing them to continue operating and providing Conservatives with alternative venues to express their views. 

The bipartisan desire to change Section 230 is not new in American politics, but for Conservatives, it will not fix their concerns with large technology companies. Instead, it could exacerbate them, leading to a digital world where Silicon Valley more tightly controls speech, and consumers have fewer avenues to express their opinions.