In a major blow to the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and all internet companies that are platforms for user-generated content, the DOJ is proposing placing limits on their longstanding immunity. The Justice Department submitted draft legislation today that would require these internet platforms to take action against illicit conduct and to be fair and consistent to users who post content. The legislation also executes President Trump’s directive from the Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship.
If certain thresholds aren’t met they would then be subject to losing their immunity from lawsuits for user content that was granted to them as part of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
“For too long Section 230 has provided a shield for online platforms to operate with impunity,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “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.”
“The Department’s proposal is an important step in reforming Section 230 to further its original goal: providing liability protection to encourage good behavior online,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen. “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.”
In June, the DOJ released a review of Section 230 saying, “the combination of significant technological changes since 1996 and the expansive interpretation that courts have given Section 230, however, have left online platforms both immune for a wide array of illicit activity on their services and free to moderate content with little transparency or accountability.” In other words, the DOJ wants Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. to remove illegal content when they see it and to stop banning conservatives for being conservative.
Despite the general liberal bent of these internet platforms Democrats and Republicans have been in agreement that legislation is necessary. Democrats want caps on what they consider ‘hate speech’ and Republicans want conservative content and users to be left alone. Twitter, in particular, has been frequently called out for banning conservatives who have no recourse to be reinstated. Hopefully, both political parties are interested in removing illegal content that could be harmful to children or that promotes violence.