In his introductory statement made to the Department of Justice Section 230 Workshop, Attorney General William Barr discussed the problems brought on by the rise of Big Tech.
“No longer are tech companies the underdog upstarts,” said Barr to the Feb. 19 panels. “They have become titans of U.S. industry.” This boom has left consumers with less options, said the attorney general. In the speech, which discussed whether or not Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) needed an update, Barr came down on some of the major tech platforms.
“The lack of feasible alternatives is relevant in the Section 230 discussion -- both for those citizens who want safer online spaces and for those whose speech has been banned or restricted by these platforms,” he said. Barr also said that due to the rise of algorithms, content moderation, and recommendations, the lines between “passively hosting third-party speech and actively curating or promoting speech” were blurred.
Some of Barr’s suggestions for improving Section 230, the part of the CDA that allows internet platforms to avoid legal liability, included civil tort law. The attorney general suggested that civil liability “can create industry-wide pressure and incentives to promote safer environments.”
One of the attendees of the workshop was the News Media Alliance, which wanted to “propose limits” to Section 230. NMA President and CEO David Chavern wrote that the limits could “also drive business incentives for the platforms to value quality journalism over overtly bad sources of information about our world and our communities.”
The Washington Post wrote that Barr’s speech “blasts big tech,” and considered “sweeping changes to a key portion of federal law.” Barr did highlight that “the goal of firms is to maximize profit, while the mission of government is to protect American citizens and society.” He suggested that sometimes private incentives tend to help find solutions to problems in the free market.
Barr also stated that internet platforms “under the guise of Section 230,” can block law enforcement and prevent victims from civil recourse.