Groups call on Congress to investigate the harm done by SESTA/FOSTA and hold hearings on the human rights impacts of altering Section 230
A group of more than 70 organizations have sent a letter to Congress and the Biden/Harris administration warning against responding to the violence in the U.S. Capitol by renewing injudicious attacks on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The groups, including racial justice, LGBTQ+, Muslim, prison justice, sex worker, free expression, immigration, HIV advocacy, child protection, gender justice, digital rights, consumer, and global human rights organizations urge lawmakers to consider impacts on marginalized communities before making changes to Section 230, and call on lawmakers to take meaningful action to hold Big Tech companies accountable, including enforcement of existing anti-trust and civil rights law, and passing Federal data privacy legislation.
“Gutting Section 230 would make it more difficult for web platforms to combat the type of dangerous rhetoric that led to the attack on the Capitol. And certain carve outs to the law could threaten human rights and silence movements for social and racial justice that are needed now more than ever,” the letter’s signers write, “Section 230 is a foundational law for free expression and human rights when it comes to digital speech. It makes it possible for websites and online forums to host the opinions, photos, videos, memes, and creativity of ordinary people, rather than just content that is backed by corporations.”
The letter urges lawmakers to pass the SAFE SEX Workers Study Act to investigate the harm done by SESTA/FOSTA, the last major change to Section 230, and to hold hearings on the human rights, freedom of expression, and civil liberties concerns associated with changing the law, before legislating further.
Signers of the letter include: Presente.org, 18 Million Rising, Access Now. Adult Industry Laborers & Artists Association, Advocating Opportunity, Assembly Four, Black and Pink, Black and Pink Massachusetts, CARES – Community AIDS Resource and Educations Services, Carolina Are – Researcher, Activist, Blogger at Blogger On Pole, Common Cause, Community United for Safety and Protection, Convocation Design and Research, COYOTE RI- Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, Dangerous Speech Project, Data for Black Lives, Defending Rights and Dissent, Detroit Community Technology Project, Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project, Equality North Carolina, Fight for the Future, Freedom Network USA, Free Press Action, Friends of Sabeel – North America, Global Forum for Media Development, Global Voices, Hacking//Hustling, Hollaback!, House of Tulip, Ishtar Collective, Indigenous Friends Organization. Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice, Institute of Information Cyprus (101.cy), International League of Advocates, Joy Buolamwini – Founder Algorithmic Justice League, Kairos Action, Lucy Parsons Labs, Media Justice, Michael Karanicolas – Yale Law School Initiative on Intermediaries and Information, Montgomery County (MD) Civil Rights Coalition, Movement Alliance Project, Mpower Change, Muslim Justice League, National Black Justice Coalition, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Lawyers Guild, Other 98, OpenMedia, Open MIC (Open Media and Information Companies Initiative), PDX Privacy, PEN America, Popular Resistance, Positive Women’s Network – Ohio, Public Knowledge, Prostasia Foundation, Ranking Digital Rights, Reframe Health and Justice, Renata Avila – Race & Technology Fellow, HAI, Stanford University, Sasha Costanza-Chock – Senior Research Fellow, Algorithmic Justice League, Sero Project, Sex Workers’ Action Program of Hamilton, S.T.O.P. – The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, SWOP – Sex Workers Outreach Project, SWOP Behind Bars, SWOP Brooklyn, The 6:52 Project Foundation, Inc., The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center, Transgender Law Center, UltraViolet, URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, US People living with HIV Caucus, Wikimedia Foundation, Win Without War, WITNESS, Woodhull Freedom Foundation, X-Lab
“In the age of mass disinformation — and massive unchecked corporate power — Section 230 provides vital protections to Latinx and migrant communities,” explained Matt Nelson, Executive Director of Presente.org, the nation’s largest Latinx digital organizing group. “Last fall, Presente, our partners, and allies were censored by Facebook after organizing a National Day of Action to stop the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Section 230 protects our communities from Big Tech wielding its power to silence Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) social movements that protect our human rights,” concluded Nelson.
Tawana Petty, National Organizing Director, Data for Black Lives, said, “Big Tech companies’ surveillance minded business practices automate and exacerbate white supremacy and injustice. We need lawmakers to take meaningful action to address this, rather than continuing their misguided attacks on Section 230. Gutting this foundational law could lead to widespread silencing of marginalized voices and social movements, and make it harder for platforms to address harmful content. If Congress is serious about addressing systemic injustice in the wake of the racist attack on the U.S. Capitol, they should listen to the communities most impacted, rather than doubling down on their empty talking points.”
“This is not a game. Section 230 is one of the most important laws protecting freedom of expression and human rights in the digital age,” said Evan Greer (she/her), director of Fight for the Future, “Lawmakers need to listen to the communities who are most impacted by systemic injustice before they enact legislation that could do enormous harm to vulnerable communities, silence activists, and put lives in danger. Any lawmaker who pushes for changes to Section 230 without first supporting the study bill to investigate the harm done by SESTA/FOSTA is being reckless. Big Tech companies’ business model is fundamentally incompatible with democracy and social justice. But we don’t need headline-grabbing bills that do more harm than good. We need thoughtful policy, informed by lived experience, now more than ever.”
“Unregulated tech companies have been allowed to make up their own rules for decades and as a result they’ve weakened democracy, enabled violent white supremacists and facilitated the spread of disinformation” said Erin Shields National Organizer with MediaJustice, “The role of platforms should rightfully be scrutinized as we assign blame for the violent attack on the Capitol. But repealing Section 230 would only further entrench tech companies as judge and jury over content on the Internet, a role they’ve proven ill equipped to perform without harming the speech and safety of people of color and other marginalized voices. Solutions need to be focused on breaking up tech’s concentration of power, wealth, and control. Anything short of that is insufficient”.
Alex Andrews of SWOP Behind Bars said, “FOSTA fallout has harmed sex workers and their families and done nothing to reduce trafficking or improve the lives of sex trafficking victims. The shuttering of online platforms forced online sex workers into more dangerous modalities and made it impossible to survive. Because our organization advocates for the decriminalization of sex work, we could easily face prosecution for “promoting” prostitution and we can’t advocate for our clients under these conditions. We beg our lawmakers to listen to our stories and understand the desperate need to provide more resources for economically disadvantaged people who have little access to services and support.”
“Free Press Action is deeply concerned about white supremacist organizing, recruiting and fundraising on the internet, and has led corporate accountability campaigns launched by Change the Terms and Stop Hate for Profit to stop the spread of hate, racism and disinformation online,” said Free Press Action senior policy counsel Gaurav Laroia, “We also are critical of the failure of Big Tech companies to adequately invest in content moderation to keep people often targeted with hate and disinformation – women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, immigrants – safe online. And while we remain open to surgical modifications to Section 230, we are concerned that repeal of Section 230 or over-broad modifications could decrease the incentives and ability for social media companies to responsibly moderate third party content on their sites. We call on Congress to enact structural legislative reforms that uproot business models that feed on hate and disinformation, such as comprehensive data privacy and digital civil rights legislation.”
Ricci Levy, President and CEO of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation said, “If Congress wants to ensure online censorship on a massive scale, repealing Section 230 is an option. If instead, lawmakers hold fast to their constitutional duty to promote the right to free expression, the First Amendment of the Internet should remain as is.”
“The world’s eyes are on the U.S. as the country struggles with social media platforms’ role in the January 6 insurrection and related white supremacy,” said Jennifer Brody, U.S. Advocacy Manager at Access Now. “However, knee-jerk attempts to change Section 230 will only do further damage to at-risk communities already facing the brunt of social media platform concentration and power. Congress instead should approach Section 230 deliberations thoughtfully and place human rights at the center of any reform, which must tackle tech companies’ profit incentives that lead to the amplification of harmful content.”
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