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Reddit co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Lawmakers mulling changes to the law that shields Facebook, Reddit and other online platforms from liability over user-generated content found some bipartisan common ground during a House Energy & Commerce joint subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

Why it matters: Technology companies say changing the law that protects online platforms — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — is an existential threat to their business models and the internet itself. But both Republicans and Democrats agreed the platforms are not doing enough to police themselves when it comes to removing harmful content from their sites.

Here are two main areas where the parties seemed to find some level of consensus on Wednesday.

1. Trade agreements: Republicans and Democrats both voiced concerns that the U.S. appears to be including language similar to Section 230 in trade agreements, with Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) offering particularly pointed criticism.

  • “We’re getting blown off on this, and I’m tired of it,” Walden said after referencing a letter he and committee chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) sent to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. “Clearly they’re not listening to our committee or us.”

2. Repeal is unlikely: Republicans and Democrats also agreed they don’t want to gut or repeal Section 230, but they warned Reddit CEO Steve Huffman and Google global head of intellectual property policy Katherine Oyama that companies need to step up their online content moderation efforts.

  • “We all recognize that content moderation online is lacking in a number of ways and that we all need to address this issue better,” said Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), chairman of the communications subcommittee. “If not you, who are the platforms and experts in this technology, and you put that on our shoulders, you may see a law that you don’t like very much and that has a lot of unintended consequences for the internet.”

Reality check: Despite some agreement among lawmakers that there are problems with online content moderation, there’s a variety of approaches to addressing the issue and immediate action is unlikely.

  • One idea, from Boston University law professor Danielle Citron, would revise Section 230 so the protection is conditioned on whether the companies have reasonable content moderation practices.
  • But Corynne McSherry, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called the reasonable standard “terrifying” because it would have to be determined by courts. “That means, as a practical matter, especially for small businesses, a lot of litigation risk as courts try to figure out what’s reasonable.”

Go deeper

Top economic regulators stressed by vacancies

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The boom times are all around us (from corporate deal sprees to the breakneck rise of cryptocurrency) — and the agencies in charge are stretched thin trying to police it.

Why it matters: Overwhelmed staff and a slew of vacant posts could set back President Biden's big regulatory agenda.

GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley announces run for re-election

Photo: Greg Nash/The Hill/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the longest-serving Senate Republican, announced on Friday that he's running for re-election in 2022.

Why it matters: The GOP is looking to regain control of both chambers of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections. Several Republicans had urged the 88-year-old senator to run to avoid another retirement after five incumbent senators said they wouldn't seek re-election.

China deems all cryptocurrency transactions illegal

A person walking past China's central bank in Beijing in August 2007. Photo: Teh Eng Koon/AFP via Getty Images

China's central bank declared on Friday that all cryptocurrencies are illegal, banning crypto-related transactions and cryptocurrency mining, according to Reuters.

Why it matters: China's government is now following through with its goal of cracking down on unofficial virtual currencies, which it has said are a financial, social and national security risk and a contributor to global warming.

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