Most observers expect the Republicans to take control of the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate, in the upcoming midterm elections. While both Democrats and Republicans are likely to keep their attention on the actions of so-called “Big Tech,” this political shift should bring a renewed focus on amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230, which provides platforms with immunity from liability for third-party content and content-moderation decisions, has been a target for lawmakers seeking to limit the power of large technology companies. Republicans have generally focused more on modifying Section 230, versus Democrats, who have spent more energy on using antitrust legislation to regulate those platforms.
Looking ahead, now is the time to consider policies and plans in light of a Republican-controlled Congress taking on potentially divisive issues through the lens of Section 230.
Republicans, Conservatives, and Section 230
Two trends will guide Republicans’ approach to Section 230 in the next Congress. First, as in many areas, Republicans will seek to address what they see as “woke capitalism.” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat coined the term in 2018 and defined it as a “certain kind of virtue-signaling on progressive social causes, a certain degree of performative wokeness, [that] is offered to liberalism and the activist left pre-emptively, in hopes that having corporate America take their side in the culture wars will blunt efforts to tax or regulate our new monopolies too heavily.”
Republicans are already planning a variety of legislative and oversight maneuvers meant to address corporations taking certain positions on cultural issues. Technology companies may very well be at the top of Republicans’ list.
Second, conservatives increasingly view liberals as having abandoned their commitment to free speech. For example, Republicans view the Hunter Biden laptop controversy, campus speech codes, and social media content moderation as part of a broader effort to silence and marginalize conservatives. Simply put, conservatives believe that they are now the defenders of free speech.
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