Elon Musk is spending $44 billion to acquire Twitter with the stated aim of turning it into a haven for “free speech.”
On April 25, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki what the White House thought about the purchase. In response, Psaki referred them to President Joe Biden’s position on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects social media companies from being sued due to most content posted by users.
One tweet said: “Elon Musk bought Twitter like an hour ago and Psaki announced the White House is already looking into reforming section 230. Are you paying attention yet?”
Did Press Secretary Jen Psaki announce new White House plans to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act following Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter?
No, Jen Psaki did not announce the new White House plans to reform Section 230. She reiterated that President Joe Biden’s stance on Section 230 is not new.
WHAT WE FOUND
Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, internet companies are offered certain legal protections or immunities against content posted by users. For instance, social networking sites can't be sued or penalized if an individual user on that site publishes misinformation, disinformation or hate speech, with a few exceptions for content that shows or promotes things like criminal activity or violates intellectual property law.
In January 2021, following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Twitter announced the permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrump, the Twitter account used by then-President Trump. According to a blog post from Twitter, the account was suspended for violating Twitter policies.
During the April 25, 2022 press briefing, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki about Trump possibly being allowed back on Twitter now that the platform was owned by Elon Musk.
The reporter asked: “Twitter agreeing to let Elon Musk … go through with this purchase. Do you have a response to that? And does the White House have any concern that this new agreement might have President [Donald] Trump back on the platform?”
Psaki said: “Well, I’m not going to comment on a specific transaction. What I can tell you as a general matter: No matter who owns or runs Twitter, the President [Joe Biden] has long been concerned about the power of large social media platforms … the power they have over our everyday lives; has long argued that tech platforms must be held accountable for the harms they cause.”
“[Biden] has been a strong supporter of fundamental reforms to achieve that goal, including reforms to Section 230, enacting antitrust reforms, requiring more transparency, and more. And he’s encouraged that there’s bipartisan interest in Congress. In terms of what hypothetical policies might happen, I’m just not going to speak to that at this point in time.”
At the April 25 press briefing, Psaki was not announcing the Biden Administration had renewed plans to reform Section 230. Rather, she was providing historical context on Biden’s support of reforming Section 230.
Biden expressed opposition to the law years before Musk purchased Twitter.
In January 2020, during Biden’s presidential run, he told The New York Times editorial board that in order to limit the power social networking sites have and hold internet companies responsible for content on its site, “Section 230 needs to be revoked.”
He said: “It should be revoked because it is not merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false, and we should be setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy. You [The New York Times] guys still have editors. I’m sitting with them. Not a joke. There is no editorial impact at all on Facebook. None. None whatsoever. It’s irresponsible. It’s totally irresponsible.”
In October 2021, in response to a Facebook whistleblower’s testimony before Congress, Psaki was asked about Section 230. During that press briefing, a reporter asked if Biden still stood behind his earlier call for revocation of Section 230.
“Well, the President has long said, as you referenced, that tech platforms must be held accountable for the harms that they cause. And he has been a strong supporter of fundamental reforms to achieve that goal. This includes Section 230 reforms. It also includes privacy and antitrust reforms as well as more transparency. That should also be on the table. And he looks forward to working with Congress on these bipartisan issues.”
In October 2021, the Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act of 2021 was introduced in the House. The bill would reform Section 230 to remove algorithms used by social networking sites that might promote harmful content. No further action has been taken on the bill since it was introduced.