Claim connecting Psaki comments on Section 230 changes, Twitter sale lacks context

The claim: Amid Musk Twitter deal, Jen Psaki said White House will reform Section 230

After billionaire Elon Musk announced plans to acquire Twitter in a $44 billion deal, debates on free speech materialized online. Some social media users claim White House spokesperson Jen Psaki announced a new move to rewrite a communication privacy regulation amid the acquisition.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was intended to protect free expression on the internet by shielding internet companies from liability for much of the content posted by users, granting companies legal immunity for good faith efforts to remove content.

“Elon Musk bought Twitter like an hour ago and Psaki announced the White House is already looking into reforming section 230,” reads a Facebook post shared April 26 in a group with over 12,000 followers. “Are you paying attention yet?”

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An April 25 tweet with the same claim generated over 70,000 likes and 15,000 retweets in less than a week. Similar posts, including one from Republican congressional candidate Lavern Spicer shared, have amassed hundreds of interactions on Facebook and Twitter.

“They are afraid of loosing (sic) power and control,” reads a comment on a Facebook post shared April 26.

But the White House’s goal of rewriting Section 230 is nothing new.

Psaki said in the April 25 briefing that Biden has long been supporting changes to the law, and she did not introduce any new reforms. She has voiced the administration’s desire to rewrite the law in other press briefings, too.

USA TODAY reached out to the social media users who shared the claim for comment.

Psaki’s comments taken out of context

Psaki’s press briefing took place at 3:20 pm on April 25, about 30 minutes after Twitter announced in a press release that Musk is acquiring the company. During the one-hour briefing, Section 230 was brought up twice – both in response to reporters’ questions.

The first time, a reporter asked what Psaki’s response was to Musk’s acquisition of Twitter and if the White House had any concern that the agreement would let former President Donald Trump back on the platform, according to a transcript.

Psaki responded that she will not comment on a “specific transaction” and that “no matter who owns or runs Twitter,” Biden has been concerned with holding large tech platforms accountable for the power they have.

“He (Biden) has been a strong supporter of fundamental reforms to achieve that goal, including reforms to Section 230, enacting antitrust reforms, requiring more transparency and more,” Psaki said.

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The second time, a reporter asked whether the White House would be interested in working with Twitter to combat misinformation, or if such a partnership would be unnecessary because the country is in a different stage of the pandemic.

Psaki said the administration “engages regularly with all social media platforms about steps that can be taken, (and) that has continued.” She repeated that the White House is supportive of Section 230 reforms.

These are not fresh announcements. Psaki previously said the Biden administration wants to rewrite Section 230 in briefings on Oct. 6, 2021, and Nov. 19, 2021. She didn’t introduce any new changes to the act, either.

USA TODAY reached out to Psaki for comment.

Biden has supported changes to Section 230

Biden has spoken of changing Section 230 before his presidency started.

In a New York Times interview on Jan. 17, 2020, a reporter asked Biden whether he saw tech platforms differently after his campaign sent a message to Facebook about an ad that falsely claimed Biden “blackmailed Ukrainian officials to not investigate his son.”

“I’ve been in the view that not only should we be worrying about the concentration of power, we should be worried about the lack of privacy and them (Zuckerberg) being exempt,” Biden said. “Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one. For Zuckerberg and other platforms.”

Fact check: Trump remains suspended on Twitter; tweet circulating online is fabricated

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told MSNBC in an interview on July 20, 2021, a few months after Biden’s inauguration, that the White House was reviewing Section 230 amid COVID-19 related misinformation on social media.

More than 20 proposals have been introduced to change Section 230 as of March in the 117th Congress, according to the Brookings Institution.

Our rating: Missing context

Based on our research, we rate MISSING CONTEXT the claim that Psaki said in a press briefing the White House will reform Section 230 after Musk bought Twitter, because without additional context, it can be misleading. No new proposed changes to the law were announced// during the April 25 press briefing. Biden has previously spoken in support of changes to Section 230..

Our fact-check sources:

  • USA TODAY, April 25, Elon Musk to acquire Twitter in $44 billion deal

  • Associated Press, April 26, White House didn’t tie Section 230 reforms to Musk

  • Reuters, April 27, Fact Check-Elon Musk’s Twitter deal has not prompted an urgent Section 230 reform, as social media posts claim

  • White House, April 25, Press Briefing

  • New York Times, Jan. 17, 2020, Joe Biden

  • Congressional Research Service, April 7, 2021, Section 230: An Overview

  • White House, Oct. 6, 2021, Press Briefing

  • White House, Nov. 19, 2021, Press Briefing

  • CNN, July 20, 2021, White House reviewing Section 230 amid efforts to push social media giants to crack down on misinformation

  • MSNBC, July 20, 2021, Biden will make every effort to convince Americans to get vaccinated: WH

  • House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Oct. 14, 2021, E&C LEADERS ANNOUNCE LEGISLATION TO REFORM SECTION 230

  • Brookings Institution, March 1, The politics of Section 230 reform: Learning from FOSTA’s mistakes

  • PR Newswire, April 25, Elon Musk to Acquire Twitter

  • USA TODAY, April 26, Will free speech mean more hate speech on Twitter under Elon Musk?

  • Legal Information Institute, accessed April 28, 47 US Code § 230 – Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material

  • USA TODAY, Oct. 15, 2020, Trump vs. Big Tech: Everything you need to know about Section 230 and why everyone hates it

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Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Psaki’s comments on Section 230 taken out of context

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