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Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images.

A bipartisan pair of senators introduced legislation Wednesday that would require online platforms to explain content moderation decisions to users, the latest push to change tech's liability shield.

Why it matters: While the Trump administration's push to update the liability shield by executive order focuses on charges of anti-conservative censorship, Democrats and Republicans are finding common ground on other areas to change the law.

Details: Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and John Thune (R-S.D.) the leaders of the Senate Commerce communications subcommittee, say their Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act would clarify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in order to give consumers more information about content moderation and hold companies accountable if content violates their own policies or is illegal. The bill would:

  • Require online platforms to explain their content moderation policies to users, and provide statistics on content that has been removed, demonetized or de-prioritized in quarterly reports.
  • Require large platforms to create a complaint system that notifies users of moderation decisions within 14 days, and allows them to appeal decisions. (Small platforms would have more flexibility in responding to user complaints).
  • Create a federal civil law carveout in the immunity shield so platforms can't use it as a defense in cases brought by the Justice Department.

"The most common complaint that we receive is that the whole thing is a black box, and that there doesn't appear to be any consistent application of even their own rules," Schatz told reporters. "This law would simply require they apply their rules, explain how they are applying those rules, and pull down any illegal content."

Context: The legislation is one of several attempts at reforming Section 230, which allows platforms to host content from users without assuming legal liability for it.

  • Another bipartisan Senate proposal, the EARN IT Act, focuses on child sexual exploitation online and threatens platforms with losing their immunity under Section 230 if they failed to meet government-set standards for preventing abuse.
  • GOP Sen. Josh Hawley recently introduced a bill that would require online platforms to include in their terms of service a pledge of "good faith" and details of their content moderation policies, then let users who feel wronged sue the firms.

But Schatz drew a distinction between other efforts and this bill, saying the conversation in Congress on Section 230 so far has been "stupid and polarized."

  • "We are pleased with this legislation because we think it can pass," Schatz said. "We are pleased with this legislation because we think it is time to lower the temperature on the conversation around 230, and start to go through the regular order and actually make a bill, as opposed to make a stand."

Go deeper

Oct 1, 2020 - Technology

Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech CEOs

Photo: Graeme Jennings/Pool via Getty Images

The Senate Commerce Committee has voted to authorize subpoenas compelling Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai to testify before the panel.

Why it matters: The tech giants are yet again facing a potential grilling on Capitol Hill sometime before the end of the year, at a time when tech is being used as a punching bag from both the left and right.

Students vandalize and steal from schools for viral TikTok challenge

TikTok logo displayed on a phone screen in Krakow, Poland on July 18, 2021. Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A viral TikTok challenge is leading students nationwide to shatter mirrors, steal fire alarms and intentionally clog toilets, The Washington Post reports.

Driving the news: Dubbed the the “Devious Licks challenge, students are showing off their "devious licks" on TikTok — with a sped-up version of "Ski Ski BasedGod" by rapper Lil’ B playing in the background.

Axios-Ipsos poll: People of color face more environmental threats

Expand chart
Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: ±2.5% margin of error; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Americans of color are much less likely than white Americans to experience good air quality or tap water or enough trees or green space in their communities, and they're more likely to face noise pollution and litter, a new Axios-Ipsos poll finds.

The big picture: Our national survey shows Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely than their white counterparts to live near major highways or industrial or manufacturing plants — and to have dealt in the past year with water-boil notices or power outages lasting more than 24 hours.