O'Rourke proposes holding tech platforms accountable for hate speech

O'Rourke proposes holding tech platforms accountable for hate speech
© Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeO'Rourke says he 'absolutely' plans to stay in politics Krystal Ball: Buttigieg is 'the boomer candidate' Language is a weapon in political warfare — if the media play along MORE released a sweeping gun violence prevention plan on Friday, proposing a set of changes that he said could "connect the dots" between online radicalization and real-world violence.

O'Rourke's proposal makes him the first presidential candidate to officially lay out plans to hold tech companies accountable for the proliferation of hate speech on their platforms. His plan comes nearly two weeks after the mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, was linked to an anti-immigrant manifesto posted online.

ADVERTISEMENT

The former Texas congressman's plan would require top social media companies to remove hateful content from their websites, opening up the companies up to lawsuits if they fail to do so.

As it stands, under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — known as tech's legal shield — websites largely are not liable for their content moderation decisions and what users post on their platforms.

O'Rourke's proposal would remove Section 230 protections for platforms that do not make an effort to create and uphold policies against hate speech.

He is the first candidate to make altering Section 230 a key part of a policy proposal.

The proposal defines hateful activities as "those that incite or engage in violence, intimidation, harassment, threats, or defamation targeting an individual or group based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability."

Most of the country's largest social media companies already have policies in place against hate speech, but there are almost no legal mechanisms to hold them accountable to those standards.

O'Rourke's plan also would create domestic terrorism offices in the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the FBI, an effort to mobilize the government to "combat white supremacy, racism and domestic terrorism."

The suspected shooter who killed 22 people and injured dozens others in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, earlier this month allegedly posted an anti-immigrant manifesto online before carrying out the attack.

In the manifesto, which has circulated online, the alleged shooter warned of a "Hispanic invasion," parroting a talking point that has been espoused by top Republicans, including President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE.

"We must connect the dots between this president locking children in cages, calling Latinx community members an 'infestation,' and a white supremacist killer using the same language in an act of domestic terrorism taking 22 lives in El Paso," O'Rourke said in a statement. 

"This isn't normal," he said. "And it doesn't have to be this way."