Presidential threat by President Donald Trump to veto an annual defense bill if Congress does not lift legal protection for “big tech” platforms is likely to fail, and senators have already indicated that they would try to override the decision if necessary.
Following months of pushing for the repeal of a provision known as Section 230, which at its core protects Web sites and social networks from being held liable for most content uploaded by users, the president this week tried a different tactic by trying to force its repeal as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
By the time the final draft of the NDAA appeared on Thursday, it quickly became clear that it did not contain a repeal of the law, a provision of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, resulting in a flood of fresh Fury tweets from Trump about the decision.
“Very sad for our nation, it looks like Senator Jim Inhofe will not include a termination clause under section 230 of the Defense Act. This is very bad for our national security and the integrity of the elections. This is the last chance to ever make it. I will VETO!” he wrote.
Senator Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters that Section 230 “has nothing to do with the military” and was “not part of the bill” despite his own conviction that the provision needed to be changed.
Despite the president’s bluster, some Republican senators are in opposition to the president and said they would try to overturn any veto on funding the military.
“I will vote for the repeal. Because it’s really not about you,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) tweeted on December 2. Rep Paul Mitchell (R-MI) tweeted on Thursday that he believed the NDAA was “too critical of our nation to suddenly bow to demands to hastily deal with Section 230” and said: “We have to override it if this is the way Trump wants to go.
On the other side of the political divide, California Democrat Ted Lieu tweeted that there were now two possible paths that a presidential veto could take down.
“Congress will override Trump’s veto. Or we can wait until January and reintroduce the same NDAA for [Joe] Biden’s signature. In either case, Donald Trump is irrelevant,” he said.
One of two things will happen. Congress will lift Trump’s veto. Or we wait until January and reintroduce the same NDAA for Biden’s signature.
In either case, @realDonaldTrump is irrelevant. https://t.co/O0ISCa9bdS
– Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) December 4, 2020
The President’s crusade against Section 230 gained traction in May when Twitter began posting flags and warnings about his post. Trump said the protection of social media should be lifted because the sites were too powerful and censored by conservatives.
According to Section 230, platforms acting in “good faith” can moderate content regardless of whether it is “constitutionally protected. And so Trump’s argument shifted last month when he proposed to “end” the law for reasons of national security.
Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, a digital rights advocacy organization, told Washington Newsday that U.S. lawmakers were “right to fend off Trump’s obsessive and illogical attempt to push amendments to Section 230 into the NDAA.
“Political changes affecting freedom of expression on the Internet should never be pushed through in secret backroom deals, they should be made in public through the democratic process. At this point, there seems to be no chance that he will succeed with this clandestine attack on Section 230. I guess he just really likes to lose,” Greer added.
Greer told Washington Newsday that there was a “zero chance” for a repeal before Trump’s term ends, he added: “It seems almost certain that if Trump does go through with this and vetoes it, it will just be over after he’s out.
Until Trump’s term, the NDAA was passed 59 years of bipartisan legislation in Congress and provided important resources to the military authorities. The 2021 proposal, which supports a total of $740.5 billion, includes a 3 percent pay increase for military personnel.
While the president has the power to reject or pass a bill, the veto can be lifted by a two-thirds majority in the Senate and House of Representatives. If this happens, the bill becomes law despite the president’s objections, the Senate website says.
The Senate passed its version of the NDAA with “veto-proof” 86-14 votes, while in the House of Representatives it was passed by 295-125 votes. The President alone is not able to revoke Section 230, and only Congress is able to clarify its legal status.
“To be clear, Mr. President, the repeal of Section 230 was not included in the House of Representatives OR Senate version of the NDAA,” Democratic Congressman Adam Smith, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, tweeted Wednesday while responding to the President’s veto threat.
“They are angry on Twitter… You are willing to veto the Defense Act over something that has everything to do with your ego and nothing to do with defense.
While Trump is targeting Facebook and Twitter with Section 230, experts say the repeal of the law would have serious consequences for the Internet as a whole, affecting community-based sites and forums, including Wikipedia and Reddit.
In reality, a lack of legal protection would mean that websites would have to aggressively monitor content sharing on the Internet, resulting in more censorship rather than less.
“Ironically, if Trump were successful in his attempt to repeal Section 230, he would likely be among the first to be summarily booted off the mainstream social media platforms because none of them wanted to take the legal risk of harboring his inflammatory and false statements,” Fight for the Future’s Greer told Washington Newsday.
“The gutting of 230 would lead to widespread Internet censorship of anything even remotely controversial, which would be disastrous for the free flow of information.
“For example, it would be unlikely that platforms would host the viral videos of horrific police violence that international uprisings for racial justice have if they were constantly under threat of lawsuits from law enforcement supporters.
“If you mess with Section 230, it won’t change anything. We need political measures to … curb the power of the big technology companies, such as enforcing existing antitrust laws, restoring the protection of net neutrality and adopting strong federal data protection legislation”.