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Attorney General Bill Barr. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images.

The Justice Department is urging Congress to limit the legal protections enjoyed by online platforms, seeking to narrow the law so they shoulder more responsibility for what appears on their websites.

Why it matters: The DOJ's move is the latest in escalating attacks by lawmakers and the Trump administration on the law that gives websites protection from liability over content their users post.

Driving the news: The Justice Department on Wednesday issued a proposal that would see Congress lay down more rules around how platforms can moderate content on their websites, and open them up to additional liability. The changes the DOJ envisions going into legislation include:

  • Losing legal protections if websites purposefully facilitate or solicit third-party content that violates federal law, so that people affected by such a violation could sue the platform.
  • Limit immunity for content moderation decisions to those done in "good faith," meaning liability protection would only apply to moderation that fits with the platform's terms of service and with a reasonable explanation. Under such a change, platforms could be sued if they, for instance, take down content or ban an account that didn't break their rules.
  • Reining in tech's ability to moderate content by removing a provision from the law that allows them to remove material they consider "otherwise objectionable," above and beyond more specific criteria for problematic content. The DOJ suggests replacing that with "unlawful" and "promotes terrorism."

Background: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in part gives platforms the ability to remove content they believe is "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable."

  • Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen questioned the "blank check" the provision provides platforms to remove content, and suggested it be reconsidered during a speech in March.
  • The Justice Department also gathered policy experts to discuss the law at a workshop in February.
  • Both Republicans and Democrats have eyed changes to Section 230 to address their frustrations with big tech companies.

Go deeper

Sep 24, 2020 - Technology

Justice circles Big Tech with regulatory threats

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Department of Justice proposed legislation to curb liability protections for tech platforms and moved a step closer toward an antitrust lawsuit against Google Wednesday.

The big picture: As President Trump faces re-election, lawmakers and regulators are hurriedly wrapping up investigations and circling Big Tech with regulatory threats.

Sep 24, 2020 - Technology

Senate panel plans subpoena vote for Google, Facebook, Twitter CEOs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Senate Commerce Committee plans to hold a subpoena vote to compel testimony from the top executives of Google, Facebook and Twitter for a hearing next month, the panel announced Thursday.

Why it matters: The subpoena threat is the latest move by lawmakers to pare back the tech industry's prized liability shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Scoop: Trump tells confidants he plans to pardon Michael Flynn

Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

President Trump has told confidants he plans to pardon his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts, two sources with direct knowledge of the discussions tell Axios.

Behind the scenes: Sources with direct knowledge of the discussions said Flynn will be part of a series of pardons that Trump issues between now and when he leaves office.