Latest Section 230 Bill Proposal Seeks to Define Adult Content

Latest Section 230 Bill Proposal Seeks to Define Adult Content

WASHINGTON — In the middle of the COVID-19 public health crisis, and only days before the 2020 national election, representative Greg Steube (R-Fla.) has just introduced yet another legislative proposal aimed at ending Section 230 protections, and his CASE-IT Act has the distinction of attempting to define adult content in explicit and broad terms.

Steube, a Sarasota Republican, introduced his Section 230 bill into an ever-growing election-year smörgåsbord of proposals that seek to curtail Free Speech online and digital rights in the name of various causes. These now include:

  • The House version of the EARN IT Act, introduced by Representative Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) and notorious anti-sex work crusader Ann Wagner (R-MO), one of the intellectual authors of FOSTA-SESTA
  • The “Don’t Push My Buttons” Act, introduced by Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) (9/29/20)
  • The “See Something Say Something” Act, introduced by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Cornyn (R-TX) (9/29/20)
  • A highly unusual “draft legislation recommendation” by William Barr’s Department of Justice (9/23/20)
  • The “Online Content Policy Modernization" Act (S.4632) introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) (9/21/20)
  • The “Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity" Act, introduced by Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Graham and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) (9/8/20)
  • The PACT Act, introduced by Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) (6/24/20)
  • Trump’s unprecedented “Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship” (5/28/20)
  • The EARN IT Act, introduced by Graham (3/5/20)

None of these proposals are identical, and all of them prioritize the specific interests of their sponsors, from Graham’s insistence in creating a new government bureaucracy to make decisions about what deserves protection from liability and what does not, to the folksy cluelessness of Senator John Kennedy’s bizarre obsession with mind control and manipulation, to the more bipartisan PACT Act, which many observers consider the "adults-in-the-room" option among this colorful carnival of election-year legislative ingenuity.

Defining 'Otherwise Harmful to Minors'

Steube’s bill, however has the distinction of crafting very specific (and also deliberately vague) language to regulate — with the clear, ultimate intent to suppress — adult content on the internet by effectively pressuring the platforms to effect preemptive censorship given their new exposure and liability.

Hiding behind a purported concern over “minors,” Steube’s CASE-IT Act seeks to suspend Section 230 protections for anyone who “permits or facilitates the distribution of content that (i) is indecent, obscene, or otherwise harmful to minors; and (ii) is made readily accessible to minors by the failure of such provider or user to implement a system designed to effectively screen users who are minors from accessing such content, to the extent feasible using technology available at the time of such distribution."

Steube’s bill then defines “harmful to minors” as “content [that] contains a description or representation of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse that— (A) predominantly appeals to the prurient, shameful, or morbid interest of minors; (B) is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable material for minors; and (C) is utterly without redeeming social importance for minors.”

An Army veteran, Rep. Steube’s congressional profile was, until today, characterized by military issues, agricultural issues and a staunch opposition to both the rights of immigrants and abortion rights.

This appears to be a rare time when Rep. Steube has weighed in on First Amendment issues, internet law or the right to free sexual expression involving consenting adults.

It is also unclear what Rep. Steube means by "the prurient, shameful, or morbid interest of minors," or why he is so preoccupied with such a thing.

CASE-IT Act by Rep. Greg Steuben (R-Fla.)

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