The Trump Administration, through the Justice Department, sent a bill to Congress on Wednesday that seeks to prevent censorship and address online crime on social networks and websites.
The initiative aims to curb the legal protections of Internet companies such as Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc., and Twitter Inc. by forcing them to take greater responsibility for managing the content of their sites.
The proposal seeks to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which dates back to 1996.
This “outdated statute” gives Internet platforms broad freedom to monitor their sites and protects them from legal liability related to user actions, except in relatively limited circumstances.
According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the new proposal would eliminate this legal immunity that online platforms enjoy by not complying with specific standards.
The bill promotes two main objectives: to manage the content on their sites fairly and consistently and encourage online platforms to actively address illegal conduct.
However, the technology industry has opposed efforts to change or repeal Section 230, saying it has allowed Internet platforms to flourish without fear of excessive demands.
“For too long Section 230 has provided a shield for online platforms to operate with impunity,” Attorney General William P. Barr said in a statement.
“Ensuring that the internet is a safe, but also vibrant, open, and competitive environment is vitally important to America. We, therefore, urge Congress to make these necessary reforms to Section 230 and begin to hold online platforms accountable both when they unlawfully censor speech and when they knowingly facilitate criminal activity online.”
In the same document, Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen stated: “the proposal makes clear that, when interactive computer services willfully distribute illegal material or moderate content in bad faith, Section 230 should not shield them from the consequences of their actions.”
The WSJ said it is unlikely that the legislation will pass this year, especially since the presidential election will take place in just over a month.
Congress could accept the proposal or similar ones next year as both Democrats and Republicans want to review Internet companies’ legal protection. However, they have different concerns about it.
First, both sides agree that something must be done to restrict criminal activity on online platforms, and this is a central theme of the Justice Department’s proposal.
Presidential candidate Joe Biden and the Democratic Party say that the platforms should do more to stop the dissemination of false information.
President Donald Trump and the Republican Party denounce the ideological bias—whether liberal or leftist—applied by social networks to censor publications or block certain conservative users.
In May of this year, Twitter applied a fact-checking warning to a Trump publication about electoral fraud.
Days later, the social network attached a notice to another Trump publication about violent protests in Minneapolis in response to the murder of George Floyd while in police custody, arguing that the president’s posting had allegedly violated the company’s rules on encouraging violence.
Facebook, meanwhile, this year, removed some of Trump’s campaign ads and some of the president’s statements about the coronavirus.