Biden wants to tackle legal protections for tech companies, though it’s unclear how he’d do it

By Cristiano Lima
·2 min read

President-elect Joe Biden has made clear he has no plans to continue the Trump administration’s crusade against Silicon Valley over allegations of anti-conservative bias on social media — but his own game plan for online speech remains unclear.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in May asking federal agencies to narrow a 1996 law that shields internet companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter from lawsuits for hosting and policing user content. Biden’s campaign indicated he is likely to undo the order or simply not follow through on it — if it’s not defeated in court before he takes office.

“Joe Biden understands that no President should use Executive Orders as menus to abuse the power of the presidency,” campaign spokesperson Bill Russo said in a May statement about the order, adding that it would not be the position of the Biden administration.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based nonprofit backed by the internet giants, sued over the order in June, arguing it violates the First Amendment. And voter advocacy groups in late August filed a separate suit, arguing it would hurt voters who get electoral information through social media.

Although the Biden campaign balked at Trump’s executive order, the former vice president found himself in rare agreement with Trump about the legal protections it targets. Biden said in an interview published in January that the online industry’s legal shield afforded under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should be “immediately” revoked, but his campaign hasn’t outlined how he would revamp or revoke it.

But the two candidates hold the same position for opposite reasons: Trump says social media platforms have been too punitive in cracking down on messages from him and his allies, while Biden says the companies haven’t done enough to curb misleading posts by politicians.

It remains unclear how Biden’s administration will tackle the issue, however. Asked about his position on Section 230 in May, a campaign spokesperson said Biden wants to use legislation to hold social media companies accountable for knowingly spreading falsehoods, without elaborating.

Andrew Yang, who ran against Biden in the Democratic primary on a platform of modernizing regulations on tech and the future of work, said in an interview he’s against repealing Section 230 without a replacement and that he hopes to work with a potential Biden administration on reforming it instead.

“You don't want to eliminate it altogether,” Yang said.

“Hopefully under a Biden-Harris administration we can start to do the hard work of figuring out what Section 230 should actually look like in 2020 or 2021,” he added.