with Tonya Riley

President Trump’s last-ditch salvo to crack down on Silicon Valley by dismantling a key Internet law appears unlikely to work. 

Even Republicans who are open to restructuring the decades-old law that protects tech companies and other website operators from lawsuits for content moderation decisions are united in their opposition to tacking it onto a key defense bill during a lame-duck session.  

  • “[Section] 230 has nothing to do with the military,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a Trump ally. “I agree with his sentiments, we ought to do away with 230 — but you can’t do it in this bill.” 
  • “I will vote to override,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Air Force veteran, tweeted in response to Trump’s veto threat. “Because it’s really not about you.” 

If Trump follows through on his threat to veto the must-pass military operations bill unless it contains language to repeal Section 230, he could face his first potential veto override of his presidency, my colleagues Karoun Demirjian and Tony Romm report. 

Whatever happens in the coming week, the issue certainly won't go away. 

And Trump's powerful megaphone, which he's using to spread misleading claims about the law, could have a long-term impact on how some lawmakers approach Section 230 as they review the power and influence of technology companies – even after Trump leaves office. 

Here are some of the biggest myths the president has pushed this week: 

Trump made the misleading claim that Section 230 is a “liability-shielding gift from the U.S. to ‘Big Tech.’ ”

Section 230 became law in 1996, years before Facebook, Twitter and even Google existed, so it was not created as a “gift” to tech giants. 

And revoking the provision outright would have far-reaching consequences for companies beyond Silicon Valley. The law protects any provider of an online service from being sued for content others post on a site, so it also protects libraries, newspapers and small businesses from lawsuits over comments people share in forums on their websites. It also protects companies from lawsuits over content moderation decisions they make, so it could potentially open up review sites such as Yelp to lawsuits over decisions they make to pull comments or posts down for violating their terms of service. 

This distinction is often lost in the broader political debate over Section 230 on both sides of the aisle, especially as Democrats raise concerns that the largest tech companies should take greater responsibility for the content on their services. 

“This idea that Section 230 is a gift to Big Tech is straight up wrong,” said Evan Greer, the deputy director of the digital rights organization Fight for the Future. “Without Section 230, the Internet as we know it wouldn’t exist.”

Trump also said that the legal provision was damaging U.S. election integrity. 

Many experts noted that it was ironic that Trump was making this claim after he emerged as one of the primary sources of baseless claims of election fraud on social media this year. Trump has increasingly targeted the legal shield since Twitter began labeling his tweets, and tech platforms generally took a harder line against election misinformation spread by his allies in 2020. 

But tech industry groups warned that changes to Section 230 could actually result in a greater crackdown on political speech because companies might be fearful of facing more  lawsuits. (Section 230 actually ensures that tech companies can’t face lawsuits when they label, remove or otherwise moderate disinformation about elections that violates their policies.) 

“Because Section 230 shields online services from liability for their users’ speech, these services can moderate content on their platforms in a way that best protects users’ safety and freedom of expression,” said Ashley Johnson, a research analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. “Taking away that shield would force services to remove controversial forms of speech, including unpopular political views, that could get platforms in legal trouble.”

Trump also claimed without evidence that Section 230 posed a national security risk. 

This claim particularly was a real head-scratcher for many tech policy observers because there is not a clear link between Section 230 and national security, and Trump didn't explain why he believed it put the country at risk. 

In sharp contrast, tech industry lobbyists argued on Wednesday that Section 230 is essential to helping the American tech industry continue to grow and remain competitive in the global economy. 

“Conflating national defense with Section 230 does a disservice to both our security and our most basic speech rights,” said Billy Easley, a senior tech policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity, the political arm of the influential Koch network. "We strongly encourage members of Congress to hold their ground and keep a Section 230 repeal out of the NDAA.”

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Facebook is now policing anti-Black slurs more than anti-White comments. 

The system will give attacks against marginalized groups including Muslims, Blacks, Jews, and the LGBTQ community more weight, according to internal documents obtained by Elizabeth Dwoskin, Heather Kelly and Nitasha Tiku. The company will also deprioritize attacks about “Whites,” “men,” and “Americans,” though they will still be considered hate speech.  

The overhaul of the system comes years after civil rights groups criticized the platform for failing to make a distinction between groups that were more likely to be targets of hate speech versus those that have not been historically marginalized. For instances, phrases such as “I hate white men” were treated the same as racist slurs.  

Facebook says the program is a part of its efforts to better rein in hate speech on the platform.

“We know that hate speech targeted toward underrepresented groups can be the most harmful, which is why we have focused our technology on finding the hate speech that users and experts tell us is the most serious,” said Facebook spokeswoman Sally Aldous.

Civil rights advocates had mixed reactions.

“To me this is confirmation of what we’ve been demanding for years, an enforcement regime that takes power and historical dynamics into account,” said Arisha Hatch, vice president at the civil rights group Color of Change, who reviewed the documents on behalf of The Post but said she did not know about the changes. “But once again Facebook has been making these changes to their algorithms without bringing civil rights groups into the discussion.” 

The nation's top labor agency rejected Amazon's request to delay a hearing on a union drive by warehouse workers. 

The National Labors Relation Board will hold a hearing on Dec. 18 to determine whether workers at the Bessemer, Ala., warehouse can move forward with an election to create a union, Jay Greene reports. Amazon had requested that the hearing, originally scheduled for Dec. 11, be pushed to January. 

Amazon argued to the board that the union failed to gather the necessary union cards to form a negotiating unit. The union disagreed with Amazon's claims, writing to the court that it “defies logic that a facility built to accommodate around 1,500 full time associates can accommodate 5,723 employees,” Amazon claimed the unit actually had. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The union also disputed Amazon's argument that the holiday season would render its lawyers too busy to adequately prepare for the hearing. 

Amazon has largely beat back any efforts by its U.S. workers to unionize, but growing concerns over worker safety have bolstered worker demands. Several employees have accused Amazon of firing or reprimanding them in retaliation against public criticism against the company.

The NLRB issued a complaint against Google for violating labor laws.

The labor board says the tech giant unlawfully fired two Google workers for attempting to inform co-workers of their labor rights among other charges, according to the complaint. The NLRB also found that Google unlawfully “surveilled employees protected concerted activities…on numerous occasions” by viewing their work in support of a union drive by Google contractors in Pittsburgh.

Google fired one employee, Laurence Berland, for reviewing other employees' public calendars. NLRB found the policy unlawful. Another employee, Kathryn Spiers, was fired for creating a pop-up informing employees of their labor rights. 

“Management and their union busting cronies wanted to send that message, and the NLRB is now sending their own message: worker organizing is protected by law,” Berland wrote in a statement. “But the real strength of organizing at Google is that it did not heed the message.”

The complaint will be heard by an administrative judge on April 21. The NLRB could chose to seek damages from Google for both employees or request reinstatement.

“We’re confident in our decision and legal position,” a Google representative told the Verge. “Actions undertaken by the employees at issue were a serious violation of our policies and an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility.”

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Twitter now bars language that dehumanizes people on the basis of race, ethnicity or national origin.

Tweets violating the policy will be removed and accounts that repeatedly violate the rule could be suspended or removed, according to a news release. Examples of the kinds of posts now banned include “People who are [race] are leeches and only good for one thing” and "[Ethnicity] are mail-order bride scum,” Twitter said. 

The changes come after years of lobbying from civil rights advocates.

“These are essential concessions that should not be ignored and will have a positive impact on the well-being and safety of thousands of users who for too long have been subjected to vile messages, violence-inciting content, and degrading tropes pushed on the platform,” said Arisha Hatch, vice president of Color of Change. But Twitter demonstrated a consequential lack of urgency in implementing the updated policy before the most fraught election cycle in modern history, despite repeated warnings by civil rights advocates and human rights organizations. 

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  • The Atlantic Council will hold an event on the incoming U.S. administration and the future of supply chains in the Americas on Dec. 9 at 2 p.m.

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