PACT Act Intends to Update Section 230, Protect Consumers

Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and John Thune (R-South Dakota) introduced the Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency (PACT) Act, which would hold Internet platforms such as Facebook and Google responsible for hosting illegal content and require them to reveal their moderation practices. The Act would change parts of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that shield such platforms from liability for the content their users post, and is intended to require platforms to quickly remove offending content.

The Verge reports that the bipartisan act “would force large tech platforms to explain how they moderate content in a way that is easily accessible to users and release quarterly reports including disaggregated statistics on what content has been removed, demonetized, or had its reach algorithmically limited.”

In addition, platforms would need to “roll out a formal complaint system for users that processes reports and explains their moderation decisions within 14 days … [and] users would then be allowed to appeal those moderation decisions within a company’s internal reporting systems, something that already exists on platforms like Facebook.”

The PACT Act is intended to replace “other bills aimed at Section 230” that would allow users to report “certain content moderation decisions to … primarily the Federal Trade Commission.”

Conservatives believe platforms “shadowban” right-wing voices, and President Donald Trump inked “an executive order last month that would pare back 230 protections.” Democrat Joe Biden has demanded that Section 230 be completely repealed. Schatz noted that this bipartisan approach is “a scalpel, rather than a jackhammer.”

This bill would require “large platforms to remove court-ordered illegal content within 24 hours … [and] also opens them up to civil lawsuits from federal regulators.” State attorneys general would also be able to “enforce federal civil law against platforms., which would likely open the door to “a flood of new lawsuits against large tech companies.”

Engadget reports that “the National Institute of Standards and Technology would lead a ‘voluntary framework’ for guidelines and best practices.” The Government Accountability Office would also “examine the possibility of an FTC-run whistleblower program for online platforms.”

The result, it says, is that “a site that thrives on user uploads of pirated material would have a more difficult time avoiding legal action.” It wouldn’t, however, “weaken encryption (as the EARN IT Act and other initiatives might) … and it wouldn’t force sites to carry content.”

For additional information on the proposed PACT Act, see the press release.