Section 230 Reforms
Biden previously signaled support for reforming Section 230, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, since the early days of his presidency. The president reiterated that commitment in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month, saying tech companies need to “take responsibility for the content they spread and the algorithms they use.” Still, Biden remained opaque on what those reforms would look like in practice.
At the same time, Biden’s remarks come just weeks before the Supreme Court is set to hear a paid of landmark 23o cases. The decisions in those rulings could radically alter the liability protection platform currently enjoyed and could complicate the administration’s policy agenda.
Early reports previewing the State of the Union address expected Biden to call on tech firms to produce more transparency around the ways their powerful algorithms work and influence politics.
Biden expanded on that issue in his January Wall Street Journal op-ed where he drew a connection between tech’s enthralling algorithms and real-world violence.
“To keep Americans on their platforms, Big Tech companies often use users’ personal data to direct them towards extreme and polarizing content that is likely to keep them logged on and clicking,” Biden wrote. “All too often, tragic violence has been linked to toxic online echo chambers.”
The president has also previously encouraged companies to provide greater transparency into the ways they collect data on Americans and give the government a peek under the hood into the inner workings of algorithms, which some social media experts and public health activists have rallied against for contributing to social media addiction and mental health hardship.
Recently calls for supposed algorithmic transparency have technically gained support from high profile Republicans, although for very different reasons. On the right side of the spectrum, politicians, political commentators and newly minted Twitter CEO Elon Musk has blamed social media platforms and their algorithm for allegedly suppressing conservative viewpoints. In the House, GOP members of the newly formed Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government say they plan to investigate tech companies for evidence of “collusion” with the federal government.
Although Biden spent a portion of his speech speaking generally about the importance of competing with China on emerging tech, he completely dodged addressing growing calls to ban Chinese social media app TikTok. 28 states have reportedly voted to ban the app among government workers. New bills making their way through the House, meanwhile, seek to ban the app wholesale.
Biden, who’s taken an abrasive aggressive stance towards Huawei Chinese hardware makers, has been comparatively less committed on TikTok. Just this week, the president said he was “not sure” whether or not the federal government should block the app.
“I know I don’t have it on my phone,” the President said according to Reuters.