The Department of Justice introduced draft legislation to Congress Wednesday outlining specific reforms requested by the agency in compliance with President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship, which curtails big tech liability protections under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.
The proposed reforms stem primarily from the department’s recommendations in June which were developed and released in response to the president’s directive in May seeking to roll back protections that provide blanket immunity to online platforms hosting third-party content.
The Justice Department is taking specific aim at websites’ content moderation to ensure an open forum in the 21st century digital public square. Currently, online platforms have been able to weaponize government protections initially implemented to encourage stripping down obscene content to selectively censor unwelcome narratives, i.e., conservative viewpoints.
Google for example, attempted to de-platform The Federalist earlier this year over content in the website’s comments sections, despite the tech companies own comments sections on YouTube being notorious for hosting some of the most nefarious material on the internet. In turn, the department is calling on Congress to pass its legislation, clarifying existing language of the 1996 law that the agency says will “shield arbitrary content moderation decisions with more concrete language that gives greater guidance to platforms, users, and courts” to curb unfair censorship.
The federal law enforcement agency is also seeking the passage of several amendments aimed at addressing illicit online activity while keeping protections for “Good Samaritans” in place by explicitly stripping protections from platforms who continue to keep illegal content on their websites despite repeated pleas from victims.
“For too long Section 230 has provided a shield for online platforms to operate with impunity,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. “Ensuring that the internet is a safe, but also vibrant, open and competitive environment is vitally important to America. We therefore urge Congress to make these necessary reforms to Section 230 and begin to hold online platforms accountable both when they unlawfully censor speech and when they knowingly facilitate criminal activity online.”
Watch FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr discuss the need for Section 230 reform here: