Are the days of Silicon Valley’s autocratic reign numbered?
Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would give Americans the ability to sue major tech platforms such as Google and Facebook if they selectively censor political speech. On the same day, reports say the Justice Department is preparing to remove legal immunities currently enjoyed by those companies.
Hawley’s bill, titled the Limiting Section 230 Immunity to Good Samaritans Act, would stop the digital communications giants from receiving protection under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act unless they change their terms of service to promise they will operate in good faith.
Section 230 provides these digital platforms with immunity from lawsuits related to user-generated content. Currently, this immunity means that Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other companies are not liable when a person is defamed on their platform in the way that a traditional publisher would be.
“For too long, Big Tech companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook have used their power to silence political speech from conservatives without any recourse for users,” Hawley said in a statement. “Section 230 has been stretched and rewritten by courts to give these companies outlandish power over speech without accountability. Congress should act to ensure bad actors are not given a free pass to censor and silence their opponents.”
If signed into law, Hawley’s bill would allow users to sue companies who violate the contractual duty of good faith — and force them to pay $5,000 plus legal fees to every user in a winning case against them.
The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).
According to Axios, the White House asked Hawley to target the liability shields currently insulating Big Tech from repercussions.
The Department of Justice is also taking aim at Silicon Valley by preparing proposals that would hit Twitter, Facebook, and others in those same protections.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the DOJ’s proposals will not only address the question of censorship, but tackle social media’s facilitation of child exploitation, terrorism, cyberstalking, and other crimes:
The department’s proposal, for instance, would remove legal protections when platforms facilitate or solicit third-party content or activity that violates federal criminal law, such as online scams and trafficking in illicit drugs. The department also wouldn’t confer immunity to platforms in instances involving online child exploitation and sexual abuse, terrorism or cyberstalking. Those carve-outs are needed to curtail immunity for internet companies to allow victims to seek redress, the official said.
The Justice Department also will seek to make clear that tech platforms don’t have immunity in civil-enforcement actions brought by the federal government, and can’t use immunity as a defense against antitrust claims that they removed content for anticompetitive reasons.
Per the report, the Justice Department won’t attempt to remove companies’ immunity for censoring “objectionable” content, but merely encourage them to be “fairer and more consistent in their decisions to take down content they find objectionable.”
Earlier this month, President Trump signed an executive order that interprets Section 230 as not providing statutory liability protections for tech companies if they engage in censorship and political conduct. It also cuts federal funding for social-media platforms that censor user views.
“My executive order calls for new regulations under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make it so that social media companies that engage in censoring any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield,” the president said when he signed it.
However, DOJ officials maintain they have been working on their proposals for months and that they aren’t a result of the president’s order.
The two moves against Big Tech come after Google cracked down this week on two right-of-center news outlets for their reporting on the Black Lives matter protests and riots that have swept the country.
ZeroHedge was banned from Google Ads and The Federalist was threatened with being banned until it conformed to Google’s demands. Both were accused by Google of being “racist” in their coverage, although a look at the content in question reveals that was not the case.
The websites came to the attention of Google thanks to the finger-pointing of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a British-based nonprofit.
As businesses in a free market, the Tech Giants may lay claim to the right to censor speech on their platform — but if they want to do so, let it be without the special legal protections federal law has given them for far too long.
Photo: AP Images
Luis Miguel is a marketer and writer whose journalistic endeavors shed light on the Deep State, the immigration crisis, and the enemies of freedom. Follow his exploits on Facebook, Twitter, Bitchute, and at luisantoniomiguel.com.