A trio of Democratic senators have introduced a bill that would make online platforms more liable for the content that their users post, particularly if those posts lead to harm. The SAFE TECH Act aims to limit the protections that social media companies are afforded under Section 230, a provision of the Communications Decency Act 1996 that shields them from accountability for user activity.
Sens. Mark Warner, Mazie Hirono and Amy Klobuchar said in a joint statement that the bill would make the likes of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube more liable for "enabling cyberstalking, targeted harassment and discrimination." According to Protocol, staffers for the three senators consulted with civil rights groups and experts in online harm as they drafted the bill.
If the act becomes law, platforms wouldn't be able to claim Section 230 liability for ads or other paid content — many of them have been limiting political ads to varying degrees. The provision would not shield companies from complying with court orders or alleged violations of civil rights, antitrust, cyberstalking or human rights laws at state and federal level. Additionally, the bill makes it clear that Section 230 would not protect platforms from civil actions stemming from wrongful deaths.
The bill also aims to limit Section 230 at a broader level to ensure the provision applies only to speech and not all online activity, such as the dealing of illicit goods. It would modify the language of Section 230 (currently "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider") by replacing "information" with "speech."
For years, Section 230 provided a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card to platform companies as their sites are openly and repeatedly used by bad actors to cause damage and injury. Section 230 will be brought into the present-day with the SAFE TECH Act creating targeted exceptions. (2/8)— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) February 5, 2021
Although the Democrats hold power in both houses of Congress, it remains to be seen whether the senators can muster enough support to push through their bill. While there's a general consensus among politicians (and even the likes of Facebook and Twitter) that Section 230 should be changed, there are differing opinions on how best to do so. Other senators have recently introduced proposals to reform the provision, which underscores the fact many politicians are training their sights on it.