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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.

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
Updated Oct 28, 2021 - Technology

How Facebook plans to build its metaverse

Image: Facebook

Facebook unveiled a series of new moves in augmented and virtual reality on Thursday, as part of its longer-term effort to help build a "metaverse" that will bring physically distant people closer together.

Between the lines: Facebook has said this is its next major push, but it comes as the company is under intense scrutiny for how it is managing the impact of its existing services.

Facebook loosens controversial VR login restriction

Oculus headset. Image: Meta/Oculus

Facebook is loosening a controversial rule about how users log into its VR headsets.

Why it matters: A mid-2020 mandate that Oculus VR users enter a Facebook login to operate the device infuriated some longtime Oculus users who wanted nothing to do with the controversial social network.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker