Democrats discuss Big Tech crack down measures

Congressional Democrats have begun discussions with the White House on ways to crack down on Big Tech including making social media companies accountable for the spread of disinformation on matters such as the U.S. Capitol riot and addressing the abuse of market power to harm corporate rivals.

The conversations include the contentious topic of what to do with a measure called Section 230, part of a 1996 law called the Communications Decency Act, that shields social media platforms from lawsuits over much of the content posted by users.

Democratic President Joe Biden as a candidate last year called for revoking Section 230, and his Republican predecessor Donald Trump unsuccessfully pressed Congress to repeal it.

Many lawmakers in recent years have called for laws and regulations to rein in dominant tech companies such as Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google, Inc and Apple Inc.

Democratic lawmakers also have expressed alarm over social media’s role in the lead-up to a pro-Trump mob’s Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The conversations between lawmakers and Biden aides represent the first sign that the White House has begun actively getting involved in considering how to take on Big Tech.

They also show how lawmakers are trying to get Biden staffers on board as part of the lengthy lawmaking process on a wide range of issues. Biden took office on Jan. 20.

Several congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said members of Biden’s team are listening to concerns raised by lawmakers on issues involving Big Tech, asking questions and participating in conversations about potential future action. The White House declined comment on these discussions.

Republican lawmakers including Trump ally Senator Josh Hawley have pushed for repealing Section 230 and have accused tech companies of censoring the views of conservatives. Biden aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, have previously said he is open to debate on how to reform Section 230.

Dumping it was so important to Trump that he vetoed $740 billion defense policy legislation in December because lawmakers had not heeded his demand for language repealing Section 230 – a veto Congress later overrode.

Trump was angered after Twitter, in cracking down on election misinformation, labeled some of his posts as containing disputed or misleading content. Twitter in January banned Trump’s account.

Wyden’s aides have circulated material among Senate Democrats to try to build consensus on changing but not dumping Section 230, a separate congressional source familiar with the material said. A Wyden spokesman declined comment.

Another Democrat, Representative Jackie Speier, plans to speak with the White House about the spread of disinformation, gender-based attacks online and steps toward content moderation, a Speier aide said. Speier already has sent Biden a letter urging him to declare white supremacy a national-security threat.

Scott Wallsten, president of the Washington-based Technology Policy Institute think tank, said the conversations involving lawmakers and Biden aides can inform the president’s thinking on issues related to tech and at the very least get White House advisers thinking about what needs to be done.