Former President Donald Trump reportedly is plotting to return to social media by launching his own platform.
If so, expect him to rethink his position on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the 25-year-old media law that protects web sites from lawsuits over users' speech. Even though Trump repeatedly called for the repeal of Section 230 while in office, it will likely be the only thing standing between his potential new venture and an endless parade of lawsuits.
Section 230 immunizes web companies from legal liability in a few ways. For one, the law provides that web companies -- including social media platforms, news publishers, online review sites and search engines -- aren't responsible for content posted by consumers and other outside parties. That's why companies like Yelp prevail in lawsuits over users' negative reviews, and why Facebook has defeated lawsuits accusing the company of allowing terrorists to communicate, organize and recruit new members on its platform.
Section 230 also protects companies' decisions to remove or demote users' posts -- including comments that violate the companies' content-moderation policies. (Even without Section 230, companies have a First Amendment right to decide what type of speech to ban from its platform. But litigating a First Amendment issue can be more complicated and expensive for companies than securing a dismissal under Section 230.)
In Trump's last year in office, he repeatedly criticized the media law. Initially, he sought to revise Section 230 by linking web companies' immunity to their content moderation policies. By his last full month in office, he was calling for its outright repeal. Among other increasingly shrill complaints about the law, he said national security interests required its immediate revocation.
Trump appeared particularly incensed by the idea that sites like Twitter were legally entitled to moderate content by removing his tweets, or making people click through a warning label to view them, yet still retain immunity for hosting speech he didn't care for.
(By the time he departed the White House, Twitter had gone beyond just removing particular tweets. Instead, the company -- as well as Facebook and YouTube -- suspended his account entirely. Since then, YouTube and Facebook, but not Twitter, have given indications that they may reinstate him.)
Lawmakers are expected to address Section 230 at a hearing this Thursday regarding social media companies. In the past, some Republicans, including Sens, Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Josh Hawley (Missouri) were among the loudest voices calling to revise the law. It won't be surprising if they change their tune, given the prospect of a new Trump-centric platform.