Section 23o, the “26 words that changed the Internet,” is once again under scrutiny from lawmakers.
At the federal level, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary panel’s subcommittee on privacy, technology, and the law found common ground in their calls to reform the 27-year-old law. Specifically, in a hearing earlier this month, Connecticut Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley joined forces to re-examine the immunity that Section 230’s provides to digital platforms and publishers with respect to recommending harmful content to children. This follows the introduction, in 2022, by Senator Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn, a Republican Senator from Tennessee, of the Kids Online Safety Act, which aimed to shield children from online content that covered eating disorders, suicide, and sexual exploitation.
At the state level, Utah’s Governor Spencer Cox just signed two bills into law that prohibit minors from creating an account on any digital property (whether a website, social media platform, or other electronic forum) unless they have express consent from a parent or legal guardian and provide official documentation identifying the child and the parent. The new laws, S.B. 152 Social Media Regulation Amendments, would require any website or other platform with more than 10 million account holders from allowing a minor to register for and post content without such consent. In addition, these new laws also prohibit children under 18 from using social media platforms between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.
Opponents to the bill, most notably the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), argue that requiring age verification would undermine online anonymity not only for the minors the proposed law seeks to protect, but for all online users.
These developments arise in the wake of the Supreme Court’s hearing in February in Gonzalez v. Google, a case involving the question whether Section 230 immunizes online service providers when they use algorithms to recommend content to users, specifically terrorism-related videos posted on YouTube by other users of the video-sharing service.