Hillary Clinton calls for end of Section 230 liability immunity for social media platforms

 March 29, 2024

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued this week that big tech firms, particularly social media platforms, should be stripped of legal immunity from liability for the content posted online by others, according to The Hill.

Clinton was referring to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which at the time was intended to protect tech firms, large and small alike, from facing constant litigation or being sued out of existence for content that others posted on their platforms or websites.

The failed 2016 Democratic nominee is not alone in taking on Section 230, nor is her position a strictly partisan one, either, as many Republicans have also asserted that the law needs to, at the very least, be reformed and updated to cover new technological advancements.

"Section 230 has to go"

On Thursday, former Sec. Clinton participated in a panel discussion at Columbia University hosted by the Aspen Institute that was largely focused on the potential impact that artificial intelligence, or AI, might have on upcoming elections in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe in 2024.

Of particular concern was how the rise of AI would worsen the perceived problem of "misinformation" and "disinformation" online, and Clinton argued that the expansive immunity from liability provided by Section 230 was now an impediment to effectively addressing the problem.

"They were granted this impunity for a very good reason back in the late ’90s, which is we didn’t know what was going to happen," Clinton said of the tech firms and social media platforms. "Nobody knew anything because nobody had a real sense of what was happening."

"Well, now we do, and shame on us that we are still sitting around talking about it," she asserted. "Section 230 has to go. We need a different system under which tech companies -- and we’re mostly talking obviously about the social media platforms -- operate."

Clinton went on to add that lawmakers in Congress needed to "come up with the right form of liability" for tech companies and social media platforms that better reflected the challenges of the time.

Chided Congress and Supreme Court for not taking action

According to The Record, former Sec. Clinton also took issue during that panel discussion with the U.S. Supreme Court and how it essentially left Section 230 intact in two major cases last year -- decisions that she said were a "mistake."

"It's very difficult to be as upset with the tech companies as we are and I think rightly so, since they were granted this impunity … back in the late ‘90s," Clinton said, likely referring to Congress and the courts.

Clinton further suggested that changes to Section 230 immunity would have little impact on the profitability of tech firms and social media platforms, and stated, "They will continue to make an enormous amount of money if they change their algorithms to prevent the kind of harm caused by sending people to the lowest common denominator every time they log on."

"You've got to stop this reward for this kind of negative, virulent content," she added.

Clinton cited the 2016 election cycle as an example of the "totally different type of threat"

The Record reported that former Sec. Clinton also used her own experiences during the 2016 election cycle as an example of the "totally different type of threat" posed online by the use of AI and "deep fake" audio and video to create and perpetuate mis- and disinformation, and how effective it was even when those technologies were considered "primitive" at the time as compared to now.

"We knew that something was going on, but we didn't understand the full extent of the very clever way in which it was insinuated into social media," she said. "It worked: There are people today who think I've done all these terrible things because they saw it on the internet … in their Facebook feed."

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