Bipartisan senators introduce legislation to update tech liability protections

Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced legislation Wednesday to update legal protections for online platforms.

The Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency (PACT) Act would create a new method for holding the companies accountable by clarifying Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to require companies to give consumers more information about their content moderation policies and let users appeal decisions.

Section 230 gives internet companies immunity from lawsuits for content posted on their sites by third parties and allows them to make “good faith” efforts to moderate content.

The bill would also require tech platforms to release quarterly reports on what content has been removed, demonetized or otherwise limited.

It would amend Section 230 to require companies to remove court-ordered illegal content within 24 hours and remove liability protection from civil lawsuits by federal regulators.

The two lawmakers, the ranking member and chairman of Senate Commerce’s subcommittee that oversees the internet, described their bipartisan initiative as way to amend the provision without tearing it apart.

“Our bill updates Section 230 by making platforms more accountable for their content moderation policies and providing more tools to protect consumers,” Schatz said in a statement.

“The internet has thrived because of the light touch approach by which it’s been governed in its relatively short history,” Thune added. “By using that same approach when it comes to Section 230 reform, we can ensure platform users are protected, while also holding companies accountable.”

Several efforts to reform or revoke Section 230 have emerged in recent months.

President Trump signed an executive order last month that, among other things, directs an agency within the Commerce Department to file a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to clarify the scope of Section 230.

The order implies that a new rule could make social media platforms liable for claims based on third-party content, as well as their efforts to moderate their platforms, but the agency does not have the legal authority to change the law passed by Congress in 1996.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced a bill soon after that would require platforms to add a pledge of “good faith” to their terms of service and let users sue firms.

Bipartisan members of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year proposed the EARN IT Act, which would stop Section 230 protections from companies that don’t meet “best practices” for combatting child sexual abuse material online developed by a government-backed commission.

That bill is being marked up on Thursday.

Tags Brian Schatz Communications Decency Act Donald Trump Internet John Thune Josh Hawley Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

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