Republican senators are trying to find ways to narrow down and specify who and under what circumstances can count on legal protections stemming from Section 230.
For the last 20+ years, since the Communications Decency Act (CDA) was passed in the US, this portion of it has been protecting tech companies from lawsuits they might face over user-generated content. This allowed especially social media networks to thrive and grow into the giants we know today.
On the other hand, the legislation’s language is broad enough in places to allow them to moderate, censor, and editorialize content (through, for example, fact-checking and warning labels).
This latest attempt to adjust Section 230 to the present day, called the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act, aims to bring more focus to the wording that currently states tech companies (“platforms”) are free to censor content that is obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing – or “otherwise objectionable.”
We obtained a copy of the bill for you here.
Since this last part is the loophole of sorts used by giant social media sites to remove any type of content they may find objectionable, including for political and ideological reasons, the act proposed by Senate Republicans and presented on Tuesday wants to replace the phrase “or otherwise objectionable” with “or unlawful.” The act would therefore allow platforms to remove or moderate content that is promotes self-harm, terrorism, or is unlawful.
Speaking of the definition of what a platform is – this is another point the act seeks to define in more concrete terms. Currently, Section 230 covers what is referred to as information content providers, but the proposed changes would specify that those engaging in modifying and editorializing user generated content (rendering themselves as publishers) would no longer enjoy protections from Section 230.
This is not the only attempt to change Section 230 through various amendments. And while one of proposals currently under consideration, the Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act, is bipartisan, most are tabled by Republicans.
This reflects the grievances expressed by conservatives, including US President Trump, with the way tech companies have been able to get away with enjoying all the benefits of Section 230 without any responsibility for safeguarding free speech on their platforms.