US Justice Department proposes rolling back protections for big tech over criminal content
- The goal of the proposal is to push tech companies to address criminal content on their platforms, a senior official says
- For it to become law, US lawmakers will need to propose and approve legislation based on the department’s recommendations
The goal of the proposal, which is being finalised, is to push tech companies to address criminal content on their platforms such as child exploitation, terrorism or cyberstalking, and boost transparency for users when the outlets take down lawful material, the senior Justice Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
For it to become law, US lawmakers would need to propose and approve legislation based on the department’s recommendations.
“These reforms are targeted at platforms to make certain they are appropriately addressing illegal and exploitive content while continuing to preserve a vibrant, open, and competitive internet,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.
The Justice Department proposal would seek to push platforms to “address” illicit content online, such as material that violates federal criminal law, the department said. It would also seek to require the companies to be upfront about their content moderation decisions and prevent the big online platforms from invoking Section 230 in antitrust cases.
Facebook policy chief Nick Clegg told reporters that Section 230 enables the company to remove hate speech and that big changes would, “in the end, mean less speech of all kinds appearing online”.
The White House, for its part, welcomed news of the Justice Department proposal. “The president expressly called on DOJ to develop such model legislation in the Executive Order signed recently, and yes, President Trump is pleased to see the department following through,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.
Trump has attacked Twitter for tagging his tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud about mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact-check the posts.
Google and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Carl Szabo, general counsel of NetChoice which counts Google and Facebook among its members, said the proposal would create so many obstacles to removing content that the US House of Representatives would not even consider it.
Also on Wednesday, Senator Josh Hawley joined with three other Republicans to introduce a bill that would allow people to sue tech companies if they feel that their speech has been censored.