Jul 22, 2021 - Technology

Klobuchar bill takes aim at health misinformation on social media

A photo of Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaking into a microphone and pointing a finger.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

New legislation introduced Thursday by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) would hold online platforms like Facebook or YouTube liable for promoting health-related misinformation.

Why it matters: Washington is bearing down on the role social media companies play in COVID-19 misinformation as U.S. vaccine uptake slows and new cases surge.

Details: Klobuchar's Health Misinformation Act, co-sponsored by Senate Commerce communications subcommittee chairman Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), would create an exception to websites' current liability protection for user-posted content, when the sites promote posts containing health-related misinformation during a public health emergency.

  • Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides websites with broad legal immunity from liability for content posted by their users.
  • The Klobuchar bill carves out an exception to that law for health misinformation that gets algorithmically promoted.

What they're saying: "The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how lethal misinformation can be and it is our responsibility to take action," Klobuchar said in a statement.

Yes, but: Defining health misinformation can be fraught, especially for a new virus like COVID-19.

  • The bill directs the Department of Health and Human Services to come up with guidelines to determine what qualifies as health misinformation.

The other side: "We have long supported common industry standards and Section 230 reform," Kevin Martin, Facebook vice president of public policy, said in a statement. "We believe clarification on the difficult and urgent questions about health related misinformation would be helpful and look forward to working with Congress and the industry as we consider options for reform."

The big picture: The Biden administration has increased its pressure on social media companies — especially Facebook — to curb vaccine misinformation.

Meanwhile, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine is investigating Facebook over whether it is living up to its pledge to reduce vaccine misinformation on its platform.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a comment from Facebook.

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