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Democratic senators introduce bill to limit Section 230 protections

Senate Democrats introduced a bill Friday that seeks to rein in the power of a landmark internet law by allowing lawsuits to be brought against tech platforms for some third party content posted on their sites.

The measure, introduced by Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerA bold fix for US international taxation of corporations Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure Five ways an obscure Senate ruling could change Washington MORE (Va.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden may find zero GOP support for jobs plan Biden says Cabinet 'looks like America' at first meeting Both parties look to recruit Asian American candidates as violence against group increases MORE (Hawaii) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharLobbying world New small business coalition to urge action on antitrust policy Bottom line MORE (Minn.), marks the latest congressional effort to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and could make platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter legally accountable for content on their sites that pose real-world harm.

The legislation would make changes to the 1996 law that grants a liability shield for tech companies over content posted on their platforms by third parties. The bill would remove some of those protections by allowing users who face cyberstalking, targeted harassment and discrimination to seek legal action against the platforms.

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“Section 230 has provided a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card to the largest platform companies even as their sites are used by scam artists, harassers and violent extremists to cause damage and injury,” Warner said in a statement Friday. “This bill doesn’t interfere with free speech — it’s about allowing these platforms to finally be held accountable for harmful, often criminal behavior enabled by their platforms to which they have turned a blind eye for too long.”

The proposed changes to Section 230 would not guarantee that platforms are held liable, but they would allow alleged victims an opportunity to raise legal claims without the law barring efforts in certain cases.

The bill would also make clear that Section 230 does not allow for impairing the enforcement of civil rights laws or statutes that address cyberstalking and harassment.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Anti-Defamation League said they support the Democratic proposal, though progressive digital rights group Fight for the Future released a statement against it on Friday. 

Fight the Future said the bill would “gut” the landmark internet law and end up solidifying the market power of tech giants and harm smaller sites such as Patreon and Etsy. 

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“We absolutely agree that Congress needs to take meaningful action to address the real world harm being done by Big Tech companies’ surveillance capitalist business models. But unfortunately this bill, as written, would have enormous unintended consequences for human rights and freedom of expression,” Fight for the Future spokesperson Evan Greer said. 

“While it appears the bill’s sponsors intended to make targeted changes to Section 230, as written this bill essentially guts Section 230,” Greer added.

Last week, Fight for the Future joined more than 70 racial justice, LGBTQ, sex worker advocacy and human rights organizations warning Congress and the Biden administration of the potential harms of making “overbroad” changes to Section 230.

Section 230 has come under fire from both sides of the aisle, albeit for different reasons.

Democrats have widely criticized platforms for not taking enough action on hate speech and misinformation posted on their websites.

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Republicans, however, have called for the reform or repeal of the law over unsubstantiated allegations that tech giants consistently remove or block content with an anti-conservative bias.

Former President TrumpDonald TrumpRomney blasts end of filibuster, expansion of SCOTUS McConnell, GOP slam Biden's executive order on SCOTUS US raises concerns about Iran's seriousness in nuclear talks MORE sought to repeal Section 230, but was unsuccessful.

President Biden said during the 2020 campaign that he supports revoking Section 230, but has not spelled out his plans regarding the law.

—Updated at 4:37 p.m.