By Nandita Bose and Raphael Satter
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday questioned whether Facebook (NASDAQ:), Google (NASDAQ:) and other major online platforms still need immunity from legal liability that has prevented them from being sued over the material their users post.
“No longer are tech companies the underdog upstarts. They have become titans,” Barr said at a public meeting held by the Justice Department to examine the future of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
“Given this changing technological landscape, valid questions have been raised about whether Section 230’s broad immunity is necessary at least in its current form,” he said.
Section 230 says online companies such as Facebook, Alphabet’s Google and Twitter cannot be treated as the publisher or speaker of the information they provide, largely exempting them from liability involving content posted by users. These companies can still be held liable for content that violates criminal or intellectual property law.
The increased size and power of online platforms has also left consumers with fewer options and the lack of feasible alternatives is a relevant discussion, he said, adding that the Section 230 review came out of the Justice Department’s broad review of potential anticompetitive practices at tech companies.
Lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties have called for Congress to change Section 230 in ways that could expose tech companies to more lawsuits or significantly increase their costs.
Some Republicans have expressed concern that Section 230 prevents them from taking action against internet services that remove conservative political content, while a few Democratic leaders have said the law allows the services to escape punishment for harboring misinformation and extremist content.
“While our efforts to ensure competitive markets through antitrust enforcement and policy are critical, we recognize that not all of the concerns raised about online platforms squarely fall within antitrust,” Barr said.
He said the department will not advocate a position at the meeting on Wednesday but its goal is to listen to opinions from various stakeholders.
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