U.S. Attorney General William Barr said on Wednesday he was unsure whether social media giants like Facebook and Google needed the immunity that protected them from being sued over content posted by their users, which has protected such companies in the past.
Barr said the tech companies were no longer “underdog upstarts,” and that they were instead “titans” now. He made the comments at a public meeting to discuss the future of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
The “changing technological landscape,” Barr said, gave some reason for skepticism of the broad immunity under the law as it is.
Section 230 currently allows that Google, Facebook and Twitter, along with other similar companies, cannot be held liable as publishers for content posted by users. Because of that, the companies find themselves invulnerable to lawsuits over such content, although they can be targeted over content that explicitly violates the law or constitutes criminal activity.
The comments by Barr reflect the changing of times. While Section 230 and other similar rules once made it so startup companies could have the leeway they needed in order to flourish, such rules now make it so that governmental entities have a harder time targeting activity such as hate speech, extremism and various forms of crime.
Consumers, too, have fewer options because of the increased size of such tech companies. Barr said the lack of options beyond the aforementioned companies is a worthwhile thing to examine.
He said the discussion had been borne out of the Justice Department's look at anti-competitive practices by tech companies.
Lawmakers from both political parties have called on more regulations for Section 230 that could open tech companies up to lawsuits or increase their costs.
Facebook and its contemporaries have increasingly come under scrutiny in recent years as governments across the globe grapple with how to rein them in, increase competition and stop crimes.