Sep 23, 2020 - Technology

DOJ proposes Section 230 changes to Congress

Illustration of a web browser under glass, aa hand holding a gavel is hovering over the glass. 

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Justice Department unveiled on Wednesday a proposal to curb protections for online platforms that host third-party content provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The big picture: Barr said he'd send a Section 230 proposal to Congress, and he's doing it. Efforts to change 230 have garnered bipartisan support, but Congress is preoccupied with the election, the pandemic, and a Supreme Court vacancy.

How it works: The DOJ released a proposal for how it would change the current text of the law.

  • That includes the removal of legal immunity when platforms facilitate criminal activity or fail to report unlawful conduct, or when platforms don't follow their own content moderation practices consistently.
  • The proposal would allow platforms to face civil suits relating to content that promotes online child exploitation and terrorism.

What they're saying: “For too long Section 230 has provided a shield for online platforms to operate with impunity,” Barr said in a release. “We therefore urge 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.”

Yes, but: Legislative proposals changing Section 230 that have come from Congress and the White House (in the form of an executive order) have been criticized by tech policy experts as overly broad or misguided.

  • Some fear that diluting Section 230 protections will make it easier for anyone to get tech platforms to remove all kinds of content that people aim to eliminate.

What's next: Republican attorneys general will meet with President Trump to discuss bias, online censorship and Section 230 Wednesday afternoon.

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