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Sen. Rob Portman. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/ Getty Images

A group of web companies including Twitter, Reddit and Yelp are mounting a last-ditch effort to modify an anti-trafficking bill that would make it possible for trafficking victims to sue websites that facilitate the crime.

Why it matters: It highlights the way that smaller web companies haven't followed some of their larger counterparts in backing the bill as the debate comes to a close on Capitol Hill. At issue is the way the legislation would weaken the historically ironclad prohibition on suing an online platform over user-generated content.

Yes, but: The bill passed the House last week, and is widely-expected to be approved by the Senate. And its backers are confidant:

“The fringe tech crowd is for doing nothing, and that simply isn’t going to happen."
— Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), in an email.

Engine, the startup advocacy group that lead the letter, says it's just looking to implement changes to the legislation that will effect smaller companies. Evan Engstrom, the group's executive director, said that the point of the letter was to "be constructive and address some outstanding ambiguities in the bill that the Department of Justice has pointed out." He added that the group thinks it can "deal with some of those issues in a manner that accomplishes the purposes of the bill while assuring that small platforms aren’t subjected to unexpected and unintended liability for trying to help out in the fight against problematic content online."

Details:

  • The companies said in a Wednesday letter that they support the “ultimate goals” of the two anti-trafficking measures that have effectively been combined into one bill that the Senate will vote on in the coming weeks. But they want changes.
  • “We are eager to work with the Senate to improve the bill, particularly to make it feasible for smaller companies to implement,” they said in the letter. Yelp declined to comment, and Reddit referred Axios to Engine.
  • Signatories also include Pinterest, Cloudflare, Automattic, GitHub, InterActiveCorp and its subsidiary Match Group, Patreon, Medium and the Wikimedia Foundation.

Some of those companies are members of the trade group Internet Association, which has backed both of the bills that are part of the legislative package moving through Congress. A spokesman for the organization have no comment.

  • Facebook has been a particularly vocal supporter of the measure. “Facebook is committed to working with them and with legislators in the House and Senate as the process moves forward to make sure we pass meaningful and strong legislation to stop sex trafficking,” said Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg last week.

This story has been updated to reflect a comment from Engine.

Go deeper

Updated 11 mins ago - World

U.S. sanctions Russian officials over Navalny poisoning and detention

Pro-Navalny protesters in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Photo: Omer Messinger/Getty Images

The U.S. will sanction 7 senior Russian officials over the poisoning and jailing of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, senior administration officials told reporters on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The sanctions represent the first penalties the U.S. has imposed on Kremlin-linked officials since President Biden took office and pledged to confront Russian aggression.

Democrats to take up immigration reform next week

Biden in the Oval Office in January. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The House will vote on two immigration bills next week, including one to protect undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday on a call with the Democratic caucus.

Why it matters: This is likely the only realistic shot the Biden administration has at this point to pass immigration reform.

Scoop: Biden briefing calls for 20,000 child migrant beds

President Biden, during a virtual meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

A briefing scheduled for President Biden this afternoon outlines the need for 20,000 beds to shelter an expected crush of child migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The rapid influx of unaccompanied children is building into the administration's first new crisis. A presentation created by the Domestic Policy Council spells out the dimensions with nearly 40 slides full of charts and details.