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Legislation Proposed Preventing Online Censorship
Attempt to hold online platforms accountable when they unlawfully censor speech

Censorship of social media is a hot topic with the election just around the corner. Wednesday, the Department of Justice sent draft legislation to Congress to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that implements reforms from President Trump’s Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship.

“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.”

The Department of Justice’s draft legislation focuses on two areas of reform, both of which are, at minimum, necessary to recalibrate the outdated immunity of Section 230.

First, the draft legislation has a series of reforms to promote transparency and open discourse and ensure that platforms are fairer to the public when removing lawful speech from their services. The current interpretations of Section 230 have enabled online platforms to hide behind the immunity to censor lawful speech in bad faith and is inconsistent with their own terms of service. The legislative proposal also adds language to the definition of “information content provider” to clarify when platforms should be responsible for speech that they affirmatively and substantively contribute to or modify.

The second category of amendments is aimed at incentivizing platforms to address the growing amount of illicit content online, while preserving the core of Section 230’s immunity for defamation claims. Platforms that purposely solicit and facilitate harmful criminal activity should not receive the benefit of this immunity.

The department also proposes to more clearly carve out federal civil enforcement actions from Section 230. Online crime is a serious and a growing problem, and there is no justification for blocking the federal government from civil enforcement on behalf of American citizens.

Finally, the department proposes carving out certain categories of civil claims that are far outside Section 230’s core objective, including offenses involving child sexual abuse, terrorism, and cyberstalking. These amendments will be critical first steps in enabling victims to seek redress for the most serious of online crimes.


--Donna Bleiler

Post Date: 2020-09-25 10:09:40Last Update: 2020-09-25 10:18:27



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