NYU calls for rework, not a repeal of Section 230

Report claims concerns over anti-conservative bias in big tech are unfounded

Section 230 on a flag under a microscope

New York University (NYU) has published a report dismissing claims of anti-conservative bias among social media companies and warning the government to amend, rather than repeal, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The Center's deputy director Paul M Bennett and research fellow J. Grant Sims worked on the report, titled “False Accusation: The Unfounded Claim that Social Media Companies Censor Conservatives.” Evaluating claims of anti-conservative bias in social media groups, it highlighted several comments made by senators, TV presenters, and influencers, claiming social media companies were militarizing the information sphere and helped rig the election.

"The claim of anti-conservative animus on the part of social media companies is itself a form of disinformation: a falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it," the report says.

The researchers acknowledge claims of bias among big tech companies, including allegations that Facebook deliberately played down conservative stories in its Trending Topics section, and Google influenced search engine rankings to promote left-leaning content. However, it dismisses these claims, citing denials from the companies themselves, and, in some cases, quoting opposing research that refutes the allegations.

The report also suggests social media platforms actually facilitated the attack by right-wing activists on the Capital by not acting quickly enough. It also cites research finding supporters of former President Trump tended to spread "junk news" more readily than all the other groups evaluated.

Many commentators, including former President Trump himself, used the perceived bias as a talking point for repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online platforms from liability for what their users post there. President Joe Biden has also targeted the law, though it’s unclear whether this would include a full repeal or an amendment.

Instead, the NYU report calls for Congress to update Section 230, amending it to introduce new responsibilities around policing content. One such obligation could be to ensure that ranking and recommendation algorithms don't favor sensational material simply to fuel engagement, it said.

The report also suggests creating a Digital Regulatory Agency to help with this task. However, this agency wouldn’t interfere directly in content decisions and risk violating the First Amendment, it warned.

Other recommendations include greater disclosure for content moderation actions and offering users a choice of content moderation algorithms. Social media companies should devote more human moderation to influential accounts and pursue a constructive reform agenda for social media, it said. The latter would mean more cooperation between government and social media companies, even as the government pursues antitrust actions against Facebook and Google.

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