LOS ANGELES—Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act — the law known as “the First Amendment of the Internet” — will likely face some form of revision and alteration in the upcoming year. Both Republicans and Democrats, including President-elect Joe Biden, have called for changes to the law, or as in Biden’s case, to repeal it altogether.
But what, exactly happens to Section 230 will likely be determined not as much by the recently-completed United States presidential election in which Biden defeated Republican incumbent Donald Trump — but by the twin Senate runoff elections taking place in the state of Georgia on January 5.
Section 230, by granting legal immunity to platforms for most user posts, allows a wide range of controversial content, including porn, to appear online without censorship.
In the November 3 elections, Democrats gained one seat in the Senate — after two Democrats ousted Republican incumbents, and one incumbent Democrat suffered defeat — meaning that the party would need two more wins in order to reach 50, which would given them control of the Senate (with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris casting any tie-breaking votes).
Whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate will determine the direction of any legislation to change the law — or determine if any changes can be made at all. As president, Biden could veto any legislation passed by a Republican-controlled Senate.
On January 5, Democrat Jon Ossoff will face incumbent Republican Georgia Senator David Perdue in one of the two runoffs. In the other, Democrat Raphael Warnock challenges Republican Kelly Loeffler — who in June introduced her own Senate bill to drastically scale back Section 230 protections.
Both Democrats must win in order for their party to gain control of the Senate.
Even without Senate control, however, Biden appears likely to issue an executive order rescinding Trump’s order from earlier this year, in which he instructed the FCC to revise the law.
Biden has said that he wants to reform Section 230 because it permits the spread of political misinformation and disinformation online. Trump’s opposition to the law is based on his claim that social media sites censor viewpoints expressed by political conservatives.
“President Biden will issue Executive Orders, as well as work with Congress on legislation and utilize the full toolbox U.S. Presidents have,” lawyer June DeHart told Business Insider. “He very well could roll back the Trump order since he has voiced concern that social media isn’t doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation rather than censorship.”
Photos by John Ramspott / Rebecca Hammel / Wikimedia Commons