Jun 19, 2019

Bill would open "biased" platforms to lawsuits

A new bill would open up platforms like YouTube and Facebook to lawsuits about content they host, unless federal regulators certified that their moderation of content was not "biased against a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint."

Why it matters: This would be the most ambitious effort yet to limit platforms' longstanding protection from liability for user content they host (in 2017, Congress allowed lawsuits over sex trafficking). It also represents an escalation by conservatives who have claimed, with only anecdotal evidence, that Silicon Valley companies are suppressing their views.

The details:

  • The Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), would strip large web companies of the immunity against lawsuits they are automatically granted under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.
  • They would continue to be immune from legal liability, but only if the Federal Trade Commission verified they were moderating content in a way that was politically neutral.
  • That certification would only last for two years, but could be renewed. The law would only apply to companies over a certain threshold of monthly active users or revenues — smaller firms will remain immune.

Yes, but: Claims of systemic, intentional liberal bias at online platforms manifesting itself in their products have never been backed up by research or deep reporting.

  • Any attempt to change Section 230, seen as a foundational aspect of the internet economy, will be met with stiff pushback from major tech companies and their allies.
  • "Lawmakers should reject this legislation," said Billy Easley in a statement from Americans for Prosperity, where he is a policy analyst. The organization, an arm of the Koch political network, has resisted calls to harshly regulate tech firms.

Go deeper: A new attack on social platforms' immunity under Section 230

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