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The Justice Department has proposed changes to a section of communications law that social media companies like Facebook and Twitter use to shield them from being liable for content published on their platforms.
The changes come in the form of a legislative proposal that mirrors those sought by President Donald Trump amid allegations some of the platforms are unfairly censoring or fact-checking his posts.
Specifically, the DoJ wants to modify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields the platforms from liability over content posted by users, Reuters reports.
The legislation would need to be approved by Congress — not likely in today’s highly politicized climate. Democrats control the House and Republicans control the Senate, though the elections in roughly six weeks could change the make-up.
And for that reason, the Justice Department’s bill would not see any action before next year at the earliest. Reuters noted that several other pieces of legislation are currently at various stages in Congress that also seek to curb social media platform immunity, but it isn’t clear the DoJ would support any of those measures.
The department’s legislative proposal mainly says that when Internet platforms “willfully distribute illegal material or moderate content in bad faith, Section 230 should not shield them from the consequences of their actions.”
Reuters notes further:
It proposes a series of reforms to ensure internet companies are transparent about their decisions when removing content and when they should be held responsible for speech they modify. It also revises existing definitions of Section 230 with more concrete language that offers more guidance to users and courts.
It also incentivizes online platforms to address illicit content and pushes for more clarity on federal civil enforcement actions.
In a statement, Attorney General William Barr urged “Congress to make these necessary reforms to Section 230 and begin to hold online platforms accountable both when they unlawfully censor speech and when they knowingly facilitate egregious criminal activity online.”
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider,” says Section 230, which has allowed the social media giants to grow exponentially.
In May, President Trump issued an executive order seeking new regulatory oversight of the tech platforms’ decisions to moderate or take down content. He instructed “the Commerce Department to file a petition asking the Federal Communication Commission to limit protections under Section 230 after Twitter warned readers in May to fact-check” his posts, Reuters reported.
Critics say that by censoring or throttling certain content, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, and others are actually behaving more like publishers and should be treated as such under the law. John Matze Jr., the CEO of social media upstart Parler, told Fox Business Network in early July he believes the left-leaning tech giants are censoring content, even if they don’t think so.
“I think they are censoring,” he told host Maria Bartiromo. “I don’t think they believe they are. I don’t know that they would admit they are, but it is pretty clear that they’re behaving like publications. … They’re telling you they’re an open community forum for people behaving like publications, choosing what gets to reach its audience, what doesn’t.”
Matze’s platform has experienced major growth over the summer, especially as conservatives flock there because there is no censorship.
“We are kind of probably a good thing for them because it shows that there is a marketplace where people can choose different platforms, that we can effectively get into this market and make a splash,” he said. “Our rules are really clear, and they’re set with different FCC guidelines. These are not requirements … but we opted into them.”
As of late July, there were 2.8 million Parler users.
President Trump on Wednesday is set to meet with a group of Republican governors — from Texas, Arizona, Utah, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Missouri — to discuss the social media giants.
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