Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) introduced legislation to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) to hold big tech companies such as Facebook and YouTube liable for content published on their platforms. Tech companies now have protection under Section 230 from being found liable for what users post. Known as the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, the proposed legislation has sparked backlash from both sides of the aisle. According to Hawley’s office, his bill is aimed to limit political bias.
Digital Trends reports that “companies could apply for immunity from liability by submitting external audits to prove that their algorithms and content removal policies were politically neutral, which would then have to be reviewed and approved by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).” The bill, however, would only impact companies with more than 30 million U.S. users, 300 million global users or $500 million in revenue.
“This bill forces platforms to make an impossible choice: Either host reprehensible, but First Amendment protected speech, or lose legal protections that allow them to moderate illegal content like human trafficking and violent extremism,” said Internet Association president/chief executive Michael Beckerman.
Should the law pass, Facebook posts, YouTube videos and live-tweeting would have to be reviewed by an algorithm or human — and by the government. Americans for Prosperity policy analyst Billy Easley stated that “eroding the crucial protections that exist under Section 230 creates a scenario where government has the ability to police your speech and determine what you can or cannot say online.”
The proposed legislation doesn’t explain how the government could possibly monitor the billions of postings these sites garner every day. It would also impact Instagram influencers and others who rely on social media for income.
At Rutgers University, Bloustein School of Public Policy professor/associate dean Stuart Shapiro noted that the law doesn’t fix any of the biggest issues with social media. “[The bill] would do little to address what some see as the biggest problems in social media right now, which is privacy protections and the targeting ads,” he said. “The problem they are trying to address is not the most important … it is particularly with a partisan dent and in doing so raises a host of other issues.”
Because many Senate members haven’t yet assessed the proposed law, “it’s not quite clear whether Hawley’s bill has a chance of passing.” But “regulating big tech companies is one of the few issues both Democrats and Republicans can agree on,” and the tech companies themselves will continue to fight Internet censorship.