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What to expect from today's section 230 hearing

Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous, Brian Sozzi, and Dan Howley preview today’s big tech hearing.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: We are just a few minutes away from the leaders of Twitter, Facebook, and Google testifying on Capitol Hill. They're going to be facing questions over Section 230. That's the law that gives internet companies immunity from prosecution over user-generated content. Tech Editor Dan Howley here with us now with a little preview. So, Dan, I guess for people who may not have been following this closely, they keep hearing about Section 230, not quite understanding what it means, set it up for us.

DAN HOWLEY: Yeah, so Section 230 is really a kind of liability shield that protects internet companies, whether that's message boards or Twitter or Facebook, anything with user-generated content, from being able to moderate that user-generated content and not be held accountable as something akin to a publication like a newspaper or website that-- I guess any kind of news website really. Basically it allows them to do that without facing any legal consequences.

The users themselves can still be held accountable, but this is really something that has been foundational for the internet. It's essentially the bedrock of current internet companies. It's the reason why companies like Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, anything with really a user-generated content area-- a comment section is able to exist right now.

And the debates on both sides really spanned from conservatives claiming without evidence that there is anti-conservative bias on websites like Facebook or Twitter, and on the Democratic side that they need to be held accountable for the content that's published, especially in terms of misinformation and disinformation. And that kind of started to creep up in 2016 as a result of-- or after the 2016 election as a result of the Russian interference campaign that was held on Facebook.

BRIAN SOZZI: Dan, callous investors come on here and strategize and say, you know, what? Big tech? Yeah, we understand the risks. That's off in the future. We don't care about it. But frame the real business risks here if Section 230 is overhauled. I imagine there could be billions of dollars in fines.

- It would be something along the lines of probably more moderating, something like companies moderating to an extreme degree. You would probably see things like comment sections turned off on places like, you know, news sites, things along those lines. But the kind of general user content that's available would be dramatically quashed I think if there is an overhaul. If it's completely stripped, then it would be a big problem, and I don't think these companies would feel comfortable publishing any kind of user content or allowing user content to be published on their platforms because it would just open them up to any kind of legal mess that you can imagine basically.

And so I think that, you know, the idea here for completely abolishing 230 is just not tenable for current internet companies or internet companies in general. You know, the free trade of ideas is supposed to be what the internet is about, and that would kind of take away that entire purpose of being, if that's what you believe the internet is for. And I think that, you know, if we did see something along those lines, it would be a dramatic change for everything that we know about the internet right now, but I don't expect something like that to occur.

Even if we do see a blue wave come November elections, I don't think that they would have-- you know, take away the law or anything along those lines. It would likely be some kind of change. And like I said, that's a bipartisan issue. It's not partisan that Section 230 needs changing. Its partisan as to why it needs changing.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, well we're expecting a little bit of drama there on Capitol Hill, virtual drama we should say. And we're going to be carrying that hearing for you live once it starts to happen, so do stay with us here on Yahoo Finance. Dan Howley, I know you're going to be monitoring it and pushing out stories on the website, so thanks for being with us.