Senators have introduced a bill to limit the protection afforded to tech companies by Section 230 and reform the legislation.
Sens. Mark R. Warner, Mazie Hirono and Amy Klobuchar have announced Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act in an effort to reform Section 230. Section 230 is the law that protects social media platforms and other internet companies from being legally liable for what users post on their site.
The law has increasingly come under fire, with many saying it fosters the unhealthy, toxic culture that has come to define many platforms. What’s more, social media companies have started taking a more active role in moderating the content on their platforms. While the move has been welcomes by many, the fact that companies are actively moderating undermines the argument that they need protection from user-posted content.
“When Section 230 was enacted in 1996, the Internet looked very different than it does today. A law meant to encourage service providers to develop tools and policies to support effective moderation has instead conferred sweeping immunity on online providers even when they do nothing to address foreseeable, obvious and repeated misuse of their products and services to cause harm,” said Sen. Warner, a former technology entrepreneur and the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Section 230 has provided a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card to the largest platform companies even as their sites are used by scam artists, harassers and violent extremists to cause damage and injury. This bill 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.”
“Section 230 was passed in 1996 to incentivize then-nascent internet companies to voluntarily police illegal and harmful content posted by their users. Now, twenty-five years later, the law allows some of the biggest companies in the world turn a blind eye while their platforms are used to violate civil and human rights, stalk and harass people, and defraud consumers—all without accountability,” Sen. Hirono said. “The SAFE TECH Act brings Section 230 into the modern age by creating targeted exceptions to the law’s broad immunity. Internet platforms must either address the serious harms they impose on society or face potential civil liability.”
“We need to be asking more from big tech companies, not less. How they operate has a real-life effect on the safety and civil rights of Americans and people around the world, as well as our democracy. Holding these platforms accountable for ads and content that can lead to real-world harm is critical, and this legislation will do just that,” said Sen. Klobuchar.
Republicans have been calling for changes to Section 230 for some time. With three Democratic senators now proposing change, it’s a good chance Section 230’s days as we know it are numbered.