Bipartisan bill would require that social networks have 'clear' content policies

The Internet PACT Act would also modify Section 230 to require takedowns of illegal content.

Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

American politicians are split on many aspects of social networks' content moderation policies, but they might find common ground on setting those policies. A bipartisan group of senators led by Brian Schatz and John Thune has introduced the Internet Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act (Internet PACT), a bill that would set "clear" content moderation policies they consistently enforce. The amendment to the Communications Act would require that online services explain their moderation in an "easily accessible" usage policy, and share biannual reports with anonymized statistics for content that has been pulled, downranked or demonetized. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would also lead development of a voluntary framework to set industry-wide practices.

The Internet PACT Act would also amend the Communications Decency Act's Section 230 to require that "large" platforms pull content within four days if deemed illegal by courts. Those big services would need systems to handle complaints and appeals, and users would need to be notified of any decisions regarding their content within three weeks. Smaller providers would have "more flexibility" in addressing complaints and illegal content, according to the senators.

The bill would also bar companies from using Section 230 as a shield when the Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other national regulators engage in civil actions. State attorneys general could enforce federal civil laws when used against online platforms, while the Government Accountability Office (GAO) would have to study the viability of an FTC-run program for whistleblowers from within online platform companies.

The measure theoretically addresses longstanding complaints from both sides of Congress. Democrats have argued that social media giants aren't consistent in applying their policies, and carve out exceptions for accounts that spread hate or misinformation. Republicans, meanwhile, have accused social networks of censoring conservative views while giving creators little chance to respond.

There's no certainty the Internet PACT Act will become law. The bipartisan support may help, though. Whether or not the proposed Section 230 amendments will satisfy politicians is another matter. Both Democrats and Republicans have previously called for large-scale reforms, but the changes here would be relatively limited. They would, however, pressure companies to act quickly on illegal content.