Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a bill that would up the COVID-19 relief stimulus checks to $2,000—but only if it comes with a full repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
McConnell’s bill ties the increase of COVID-19 relief checks to Americans from $600 to $2,000 with a Section 230 repeal and the creation of a panel to investigate voter fraud—two provisions that he likely knows will doom it if any vote occurs.
The two provisions for increased checks also seem meant to appease President Donald Trump, who has baselessly claimed the 2020 election was “rigged” and has incessantly pushed for a Section 230 repeal.
Section 230 is an important internet law that shields all websites from being held liable for what users post on them. It has been called “one of the most valuable tools for protecting freedom of expression and innovation on the internet” and tech advocates and companies have warned that repealing it would have major, widespread ramifications online.
While most of the fury surrounding Section 230 has centered on tech giants like Facebook and Twitter, a repeal of the law would affect nearly every website.
Despite the law’s importance, it has become a target of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Besides Trump, members of Congress have put forth a flurry of bills that seek to reform the law and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) recently introduced a bill that would completely repeal Section 230 in two years unless Congress acts on it.
Even President-elect Joe Biden and members of his staff have raised the specter of repealing the law, meaning that its fate will continue to be up in the air as the new administration takes office.
Trump’s biggest gripe with the law centers around supposed anti-conservative bias and censorship on social media. It is possible, even likely, that if Section 230 was repealed it would lead to even more censorship online—as companies would not want to risk potential litigation over posts from their users.
Even more, experts have said that a repeal could also lead to further entrenchment of power among tech giants, as they have more resources to deal with the potential costs of operating in a world with Section 230 protections than smaller potential competitors.
Trump himself seemed to know that McConnell would make a move to target Section 230 as part of the COVID-relief talks. On Sunday, he said in a statement that the Senate would “start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000, repeals Section 230, and starts an investigation into voter fraud.”
The latest move to attack Section 230 was met with fierce pushback.
“This is absurd. And dangerous. A full repeal of Section 230 would throw the Internet into chaos. It would open the floodgates for massive Internet censorship and online abuse. Even Mitch McConnell knows that,” Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement. “This seems to be a cynical play to use Section 230 as a ‘poison pill’ to make sure we don’t get $2,000 stimulus checks that people desperately need in order to feed their children and avoid eviction in the middle of a pandemic.”
Similarly, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), pushed back against McConnell’s bill. Schatz has introduced legislation that would rework Section 230.
“The Section 230 thing is not on the level. The fact that a repeal would harm conservatives, conservative websites, and Trump himself is a fine thing to point out. But I worry we are racing past the threshold question of whether this is a serious lawmaking effort. It is not,” Schatz tweeted. “It is an incantation, like ‘caravan!’ or ‘build the wall’ which is really more about the call and response in a rally or on TV than it is about some specific objection to the immunity provided to internet platforms under federal law.”