U.S. Senator Josh Hawley on Wednesday announced that he is introducing legislation that threatens the business models of technology companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter.
The "Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act" is a major update to the way big tech companies are treated under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). This specific act protects the companies from liability for the content posted by users. According to the proposed law, in order to avoid the loss of protection, companies will need to "submit to biannual audits to prove their algorithms and content-removal practices are politically neutral." Sen. Hawley’s legislation does not apply to small and medium-sized tech companies.
“There’s a growing list of evidence that shows big tech companies making editorial decisions to censor viewpoints they disagree with. Even worse, the entire process is shrouded in secrecy because these companies refuse to make their protocols public. This legislation simply states that if the tech giants want to keep their government-granted immunity, they must bring transparency and accountability to their editorial processes and prove that they don’t discriminate.”
Senator Hawley’s bill:
- Removes automatic immunity under Section 230 from big tech companies
- Gives big tech companies the ability to earn immunity through external audits
- Big tech companies would have to prove to the FTC by clear and convincing evidence that their algorithms and content-removal practices are politically neutral
- The FTC could not certify big tech companies for immunity except by a supermajority vote
- Big tech companies would be responsible for the cost of conducting audits
- Big tech companies would have to reapply for immunity every two years
- Preserves existing immunity for small and medium-sized companies
- The bill applies only to companies with more than 30 million active monthly users in the U.S., more than 300 million active monthly users worldwide, or who have more than $500 million in global annual revenue
“Because these companies control the very information we receive, we must ensure that they moderate content in a politically neutral manner. Today’s most powerful companies must not be allowed to interfere with the policy Congress established, when passing the CDA, to ensure “a forum for a true diversity of political discourse.”
Social media has come in for increasing criticism in the last year as the prevalence of terrorist content and hate speech has been exposed by the media. The terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, which was live streamed on Facebook, led to a series of admissions by leading social media platforms as to the challenges involved in policing content. U.S. politicians including Ted Cruz, Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren have hammered the companies for the content on their sites and the seeming lack of genuine will to solve the problem.
Earlier this year Hawley publicly lambasted Google for its work with China's technology industry that indirectly benefited the country's military, while turning down development contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense. This week he questioned Google's links to China, asking whether a Google Translate error that favored the authorities instead of the protestors during the Hong Kong demonstrations was deliberate.