Twitter's business 'was really made by President Trump': Roger McNamee
The Justice Department plans to submit proposed legislation to Congress that would roll back legal protections for online platforms such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. if they censor content or fail to police misconduct on their websites, according to a Trump administration official.
The move follows a feud between President Donald Trump and Twitter Inc., which last month slapped fact-checks on some of his tweets, prompting him to issue an executive order aiming to narrow the liability shield enjoyed by social-media companies. Trump and his supporters contend they’re treated unfairly when their assertions are challenged or blocked by the companies.
The proposed legislation could be sent to lawmakers as early as this week, said the official, who asked to remain anonymous because the plan hasn’t been made public yet. The Wall Street Journal reported on the proposed legislation earlier Wednesday.
The companies enjoy immunity from lawsuits over content that users post under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The provision, which doesn’t apply to violations of federal criminal law, has become a target of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who object to its breadth and describe it as a giveaway to technology companies.
Details of the proposed legislation were still being worked out and could change. But in general the plan aims to prevent companies from removing content they find objectionable without providing explanations and adhering to their content-moderation policies, said the official.
It also would limit protections when companies allow third-party content that’s deemed harmful or illegal, the official said.
Also on Wednesday, four Republican senators led by Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced a measure to remove the liability protection if companies don’t fulfill a promise to moderate content in good faith, according to an announcement from Hawley’s office. Discriminating on content moderation would constitute a violation of the promise -- echoing GOP efforts to use the legal shield to address what they say is systematic silencing of conservatives by internet platforms.
Trump’s executive order aimed to limit the companies’ immunity in cases of bias, which many legal scholars described as unconstitutional, and also directed the Justice Department to prepare legislation.
Shortly before Trump issued the order, Twitter had labeled two of his posts about mail-in voting being subject to fraud “potentially misleading” and provided links to news coverage of his comments. The president responded with outrage, accusing the social-media company of censorship and election interference and threatening to shut down the service. After the order, Twitter also flagged one of his posts about protests over the death of George Floyd for violating its rules against glorifying violence.
Trump’s order was the latest in a series of threats against the tech companies for alleged bias, which the firms have repeatedly denied. The president has complained about Twitter’s efforts to combat manipulative and abusive content by deleting fake profiles -- leading to a decline of hundreds of thousands of users in his count of followers.
Nonetheless, Twitter in particular has been an essential tool for Trump as a politician and as president, dating back to his false allegations that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Trump has observed that the social media platform allows him to avoid the press and speak directly to his 80 million followers. It has also afforded him the unfettered opportunity to assail political opponents and to promote conspiracy theories and other misinformation propounded by supporters.
Even before Trump’s executive order, Attorney General William Barr had spent months criticizing Section 230. In February, he convened a workshop with critics and defenders of the law to explore potential changes. The law was passed in 1996 and has been credited with allowing the then-fledgling internet to flourish.
Barr told attendees that the shield is relevant to the Justice Department’s ability to “combat lawless spaces online.”
Democrats, who have criticized Trump’s moves as impermissible attacks on the companies for their political viewpoints, have also been skeptical of Section 230, suggesting it could be tweaked to address the spread of election misinformation and the promotion of defective products.
Lawmakers from both sides have also taken aim at the shield as a way to combat child abuse online, and have objected to language resembling the immunity in U.S. trade agreements.