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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

YouTube pulls Bolsonaro videos over COVID misinformation

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro during a June event in Brasilia, Brazil. Photo: Andressa Anholete/Getty Images

YouTube removed videos from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's channel Wednesday for spreading pandemic misinformation, the tech giant said.

Driving the news: YouTube said a "careful review" found rule breaches concerning incorrect comments about face masks and hydroxychloroquine, which is proven to not work as a COVID-19 treatment, per a statement to news outlets.

Biden swipes at Fox News' "altar call" over COVID vaccinations

President Biden participates in a CNN Town Hall in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Wednesday. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden jabbed at Fox News during his CNN town hall Wednesday night, saying the network had "an altar call" over stepping up messaging on getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

Why it matters: Fox News has long been criticized for allowing some of its personalities to spread misinformation as they've railed against pandemic measures.

Bezos beats Branson in space billionaires' battle for attention

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Imtiyaz Shaikh (Anadolu Agency), Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Jeff Bezos' flight into space generated more interest from the public than Richard Branson's, and both billionaires overshadowed their respective space companies.

Why it matters: Data shows an outsized public interest in the personalities at the center of the space trips, compared to the companies behind them — which could reinforce public suspicion that the ventures were partly vanity plays.