Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is increasing the heat on an issue that is sure to spark outrage in Silicon Valley.
Hawley, a tech critic, offered legislation on Wednesday that would remove the immunity big technology companies receive under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The CDA guards online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube from liability for the content utilizers post. But, companies will be able to earn immunity from the crackdown if they propose to audits every two years to prove their algorithms and content-removal practices are “politically unbiased.”
Hawley’s bill, the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, would preserve immunity for small and medium-sized firms. Only companies with more than 30 million active monthly users in the U.S., more than 300 million active monthly users worldwide or more than $500 million in global annual income would have to comply.
But, these firms could earn immunity through external audits wherein they would have to prove to the Federal Trade Commission that their algorithms and content-removal practices are “politically unbiased.” Immunity certification would require a super-majority vote by the FTC. Companies would have to reapply every 2 years.
“This law simply says that if the tech giants want to keep their government-granted immunity, they must bring clarity and accountability to their editorial processes and prove that they don’t discriminate,” Hawley said.
Proponents of maintaining Section 230 immunity claim that it does not only guard tech companies. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has argued that it also guards traditional media firms for liability for comments that users post on their websites, for example.
Americans for Prosperity, a policy group supported by the libertarian Koch family, issued a report this week in anticipation of the bill, saying: “Eroding the crucial protections that exist under Section 230 creates a scenario where the government has the powers to control your speech and determine what you can or cannot say online. Senator Hawley has argued that some tech platforms have become too powerful, but law like this would only connect the market dominance of today’s biggest firms.”