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The Justice Department is proposing a measure that would roll back protections for internet companies such as Facebook and Twitter.
The proposal would weaken Section 230, the law that protects internet companies from being held liable for other people’s posts on their platforms as long as they make a good faith effort to remove illegal content.
President Donald Trump last month asked the FCC to consider revoking Section 230 protections from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, claiming the sites are biased against him.
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The US Department of Justice unveiled a broad set of proposals Wednesday that aim to roll back decades-old legal protections enjoyed by internet companies like Facebook and Twitter, the first concrete consequence of President Donald Trump’s executive order last month.
The agency’s proposals involve Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the 1996 law that protects tech companies from being held liable for the content that users post on their platforms. The law is considered vital to the business models of social media platforms, many of which generate tens of billions of dollars in annual revenues, but has come under fire from critics on both sides of the political aisle.
Trump’s executive order last month listed his grievances against the tech companies, claiming they’re biased against him and other conservatives. It called on the Federal Communications Commission to consider reclassifying them as publishers, which would strip their Section 230 protections.
On Wednesday the DOJ weighed in with policy prescriptions it said were based on a 10 month analysis of the online market.
“The Department of Justice has concluded that the time is ripe to realign the scope of Section 230 with the realities of the modern internet,” the agency said on Wednesday.
The Justice Department proposal to weaken Section 230 would need to be adopted by Congress to become law. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who has often aligned with Trump’s criticisms of big tech, said Wednesday he plans to introduce legislation that aligns with the Justice Department’s recommendations.
The DOJ proposals call for specific carve-outs and clarifications
Among the DOJ’s recommended changes to the law are “carve outs” that would remove legal protections in cases involving content that violates federal criminal law, and for platforms that have knowledge of criminal content and fail to take action in a reasonable amount of time.
The proposal also call on Congress to clarify the text of Section 230 to explicitly state that the law’s purpose is to promote “free and open discourse” and to “emcourage greater transparency between platforms and users.”
“The combination of 25 years of drastic technological changes and an expansive statutory interpretation left online platforms unaccountable for a variety of harms flowing from content on their platforms and with virtually unfettered discretion to censor third-party content with little transparency or accountability,” the DOJ said in a statement presenting its proposals Wednesday.
If social media companies lost the protections of Section 230, they would be forced to either shoulder the financial burden of countless new lawsuits or to shut down open forums entirely.
Trump has raged against social-media companies for years, but his anger reached a breaking point last month after Twitter applied warning labels to his tweets that contained misinformation about mail-in voting and suggested people looting at George Floyd protests should be shot. (Facebook declined to take action against the same posts Trump published there.)
Both Republicans and Democrats have taken aim at Section 230 in recent years. Lawmakers are weighing legislation to raise the standards internet companies must abide by when it comes to blocking child sexual exploitation. Joe Biden has called for Section 230 protections to be rolled back so that internet companies would be held responsible for moderating false or misleading content.
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