Feb 18, 2020 - Economy & Business

Exclusive: News industry wants to cut Big Tech's safety net

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The News Media Alliance, a trade group which represents thousands of U.S. newspapers, plans to propose limits to a rule that, to-date, has helped Big Tech companies dodge responsibility for the content people upload to their platforms.

The big picture: The 24-year-old provision, Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, allows tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter to host user-generated content on their platforms without being liable for what it contains.

  • The rule has paved the way for the modern internet economy, but has also been blamed for giving tech companies little incentive to police nefarious content or false information on their platforms.

According to a written testimony provided to Axios, NMA will tell parties on Wednesday at the Justice Department's upcoming workshop on Section 230 that policymakers should limit the safe harbor exemption within the law that protects tech platforms from being sued for the content that other people post on its site.

  • "[W]e should start by limiting the exemption for just the very largest companies who both derive the most benefits from Section 230 and have the greatest capacities to take legal responsibility for their commercial decisions around content and reach," the testimony says.
  • NMA CEO David Chavern will be testifying.

The big picture: U.S. Attorney General William Barr said last month that the DOJ was looking into the law because “many are concerned that Section 230 immunity has been extended far beyond what Congress originally intended,” per Reuters.

Go deeper: National newspapers thrive while local outlets struggle to survive

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Justice Department takes aim at Big Tech's shield

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Trump administration is turning up the heat on one of Big Tech's most important legal protections, as the Justice Department convenes a debate over changing a law that protects platforms from suits over content their users post.

Why it matters: The threat to remove immunity granted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is one of a handful of weapons that Washington is mulling using against Facebook, Google, and other tech giants. Trump administration enthusiasm for revoking or revising the protection could give such proposals a boost in Congress.

DOJ official floats reining in tech companies' ability to censor

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images.

A top Justice Department official suggested Tuesday that tech's prized liability shield could be changed to limit online platforms' ability to censor content.

The big picture: DOJ officials including Attorney General Bill Barr have expressed concerns about the reach of Section 230. His deputy now contends tech companies may be using the law as a “blank check” to remove lawful speech, echoing GOP claims that platforms disproportionately target conservative content for deletion.

Report urges alternative to tampering with tech's liability shield

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new report out Tuesday from a non-profit focused on online free expression is calling on federal lawmakers to mandate more transparency from tech companies rather than weakening the industry's liability shield.

Why it matters: Internet platforms could embrace policies like transparency requirements as a far more palatable alternative to eroding their immunity from lawsuits over user-posted content, which they say is vital to their existence.