House Democrats announce bill to rein in tech algorithms

House Democrats announce bill to rein in tech algorithms
© Bonnie Cash

Top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday announced legislation aimed at holding online platforms accountable for content promoted by their algorithms.

The Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides platforms with immunity from content posted by third parties and allows good faith moderation, to make platforms liable for certain dangerous content.

The bill would only apply to platforms with over 5 million unique monthly visitors and contains exceptions for web hosting sites.

ADVERTISEMENT

The bill, introduced by Reps. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHouse Democrats announce bill to rein in tech algorithms House Democrats ramp up probe of FDA approval of Alzheimer's drug Intercept bureau chief: Democrats dropping support of Medicare for All could threaten bill's momentum MORE (D-N.J.), Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleHillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Congress makes technology policy moves House Democrats announce bill to rein in tech algorithms Ohio GOP congressman tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Pa.), Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyOvernight Health Care — Presented by The National Council for Mental Wellbeing — FDA panel advises Moderna booster shot for high-risk people Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Congress makes technology policy moves House Democrats announce bill to rein in tech algorithms MORE (D-Ill.) and Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooHillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Congress makes technology policy moves House Democrats announce bill to rein in tech algorithms Pelosi faces one big final battle MORE (D-Calif.), is not the first House bill targeting Section 230 reform, but does have some of the most high-profile lawmakers behind it.

“Social media platforms like Facebook continue to actively amplify content that endangers our families, promotes conspiracy theories, and incites extremism to generate more clicks and ad dollars,” Pallone, the committee chair, said in a statement.

The legislation specifically carves out Section 230 liability protections in cases where platforms knowingly or recklessly make a personalized recommendation that “materially contributed to a physical or severe emotional injury to any person.”

The bill, set to be formally introduced on Friday, comes after a high profile hearing in the Senate with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who recommended similar tweaks to Section 230.

“They have a hundred percent control over their algorithms, and Facebook should not get a free pass on choices it makes to prioritize growth and virality and reactiveness over public safety,” she said during testimony.

The only previous bill to successfully amend the law, considered by many the bedrock of the modern internet, was the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), also referred to as SESTA after the original Senate bill.

FOSTA-SESTA was designed to make platforms liable for third-party content promoting prostitution, but has only resulted in one federal prosecution since being signed in 2018.

Instead, according to sex workers, it has made the industry more dangerous and destabilized the income sources for thousands of individuals that relied on online platforms to find safe clients.