Bill From Democratic Senators Would Strip Some Legal Immunity From Internet Companies-news

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Sen. Mark Warner (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for PEN America)

How do you get social media companies to take content moderation more seriously? A new bill from Senate Democrats proposes doing so by paving a way for consumers to sue internet companies for ads and user content accused of causing harm to the public. 

On Friday, Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota introduced the bill, which may have a real shot at passing with the Democrats now in control of Congress. 

“The SAFE TECH Act doesn’t interfere with free speech—it’s about allowing these platforms to finally be held accountable for harmful, often criminal behavior enabled by their platforms to which they have turned a blind eye for too long,” Warner said in a tweet

The bill would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which can shield internet companies from lawsuits over any objectionable or illegal content they host. To avoid getting sued, the provider simply has to make a “good faith” effort to pull the content down. 

The bill from Warner proposes carving out some exemptions to that legal immunity. A notable one is how Section 230 would no longer apply to online ads an internet company is hosting. According to Warner, social media companies have often hosted ads that tricked vulnerable users into buying bogus products or exposed them to fraud. 

The bill would also allow people to sue an internet company for hosting content that caused “irreparable harm” or a “wrongful death.” Warner said this was added to address how social media platforms can be used to incite violence, such as the pro-Trump riot that erupted at the US Capitol on Jan. 6. 

Other major exemptions would let people sue an internet company for hosting user-generated content that infringes on people’s civil rights, violates antitrust, or constitutes cyberstalking and harassment against a victim. 

Although Section 230 has been credited with helping the US’s internet ecosystem flourish, Warner called the same law a “Get Out of jail Free” card that needs to be reformed. His Republican colleagues may agree. In recent months, they too have been harsh critics of Section 230, claiming it gives today’s internet companies too much power. Where they split is how Republicans have been advocating for less content moderation, not more. Last year, former President Trump threatened to change and even abolish Section 230 after Twitter decided to fact-check his tweets on mail-in balloting. 

The CEOs of the major internet platforms, on the other hand, have issued cautious support for re-evaluating Section 230. But at the same time, they want lawmakers to avoid creating unintended consequences by stripping away the legal protections. 

Warner said his own bill doesn’t ensure a lawsuit against an internet company will succeed. “The current legal standards for plaintiffs still present steep obstacles,” he said in a statement. “Rather, these reforms ensure that victims have an opportunity to raise claims without Section 230 serving as a categorical bar to their efforts to seek legal redress for harms they suffer.”


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