Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, reportedly opposes President Donald Trump's executive order seeking a review of a prized liability shield for social media companies. But the former vice president also supports revoking the law, putting him at odds with the broader tech industry.
While the Obama administration was known as being tech-friendly, Biden appears ready to break with that precedent. In addition to revoking the liability shield, he has signaled an openness to policy reforms on other hot-button tech issues, calling for stronger privacy standards, increased investment in rural broadband and a look at whether large online platforms should be broken up.
Among other provisions, Trump's May 28 executive order seeks a petition to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to review and clarify certain legal protections provided under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a landmark piece of legislation that protects internet platforms from civil and criminal liability for content created and posted by users.
The action came after Twitter Inc. posted fact-check disclaimers on two of Trump's tweets on May 26. The disclaimers said the tweets' claims that mail-in voting will lead to voter fraud were unsubstantiated.
Derek Slater, global director of information policy for Alphabet Inc.'s Google LLC has previously said the Section 230 law is "part of the reason we [the U.S.] have been a leader in economic growth and innovation and technological development."
In response to the executive order, Bill Russo, a spokesperson for Biden's campaign, reportedly said in a statement that "it will not be the position of any future Biden Administration … that the First Amendment means private companies must provide a venue for, and amplification of, the President's falsehoods, lest they become the subject of coordinated retaliation by the federal government."
Despite this reported opposition to the order itself, Biden told The New York Times in 2019 that Section 230 should be "revoked, immediately."
Biden's campaign maintains the former vice president still supports revoking the law and that Biden would seek to propose legislation to "hold social media companies accountable for knowingly platforming falsehoods," Vox Media's The Verge reported May 29.
Biden's campaign did not respond to multiple requests to confirm his position on the executive order and the law.
On the issue of privacy, Biden has said the U.S. should be "setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy."
In 2016, the European Union adopted a landmark privacy law known as the General Data Protection Regulation. Among other provisions, the GDPR requires companies to receive unambiguous consent from a user before collecting or processing the user's personal data, and it instructs companies to alert users of certain types of data breaches within 72 hours of learning of the occurrence. Companies found in noncompliance can face steep fines.
Expanding access to broadband
As part of an infrastructure plan on his campaign site, Biden has a stated goal to bring broadband to every American household.
The policy plan says that, as president, he will invest $20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure and triple funding to expand broadband access in rural areas.
The campaign also writes that Biden will direct the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a division of the U.S. Commerce Department that advises the president on telecommunications policy issues, to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to "support cities and towns that want to build municipally-owned broadband networks."
Municipal broadband has been seen as controversial by some because the practice involves government entities becoming part of a commercial marketplace.
Supporters of the service believe local governments should be able to offer broadband services that meet community needs and boost economic development, according to a 2016 report from the U.S. Congressional Research Service. However, opponents believe that municipally owned broadband networks are unfair competition for private sector businesses.
Biden would also like to work with the FCC to reform its Lifeline program, which provides a discount on wireline and wireless services for certain Americans with low incomes, by increasing the number of participating broadband providers and reducing fraud and abuse, according to his campaign website.
Among other provisions, the former vice president also supports passage of the Digital Equity Act, a Democratic-backed bill that would require NTIA to establish grant programs to support digital inclusion activities and other programs.
Breaking up big tech
Many large technology platforms are facing antitrust scrutiny at the federal and state level. The U.S. Department of Justice is preparing to file an antitrust lawsuit against Google as early as this summer, with state attorneys general likely to file a similar case in the fall, The Wall Street Journal reported in May.
In 2019, Biden told The Associated Press that dismantling large technology companies, such as Facebook Inc., should be looked at but said it was "premature" to make a final judgment on the matter.
In the same interview, Biden also praised a plan from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., that called for appointing regulators committed to unwinding previously approved "illegal and anti-competitive tech mergers."
Specifically, Biden said Warren "has a very strong case to be made" for cracking down on tech giants, according to The Associated Press.