Culture

Democrats want to rein in social media protections of Section 230, too

Representatives are going after "algorithmic promotion of extremism" in their latest bill hitting the Communications Decency Act.

Shutterstock

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a source of deep contention and strife for both Republicans and Democrats. Both parties have their partisan reasons for taking issue with this particular provision that centers on free speech through social media platforms and other websites.

For Republicans, the issue comes down to pettier instances, including troll images from Trump critics. For Democrats, as is evident in this new bill that calls for amending the provision, the problem is how major tech companies — especially Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook — have relied on Section 230 to presumably give fringe extremists, unhinged conspiracy theorists, their sympathizers, and other violent groups the chance to thrive online.

United States representatives Anna Eshoo and Tom Malinowski have presented the latest bill titled "Protecting Americans From Dangerous Algorithms Act" as a way to handle the real-life repercussions of social networks with more than 50 million members. The bill arrives shortly after the fatal shootings in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where a 17-year-old opened fire on a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters. Facebook came under intense criticism for its role in repeatedly overlooking the presence of violent groups that assumed the role of judge, jury, and executioner online and offline.

What the bill seeks — A press statement from Eshoo notes that the bill would "narrowly" amend the provision by removing liability immunity for companies that use algorithms to boost user engagement with content "directly relevant to a case involving interference with civil rights." It also will target these major companies if they fail to intervene in the face of growing radical sentiment on their networks. The representatives have assured the public that the "core elements" of the act will remain intact, and only intend to target the companies responsible for amplifying content.

Representative Eshoo clearly anticipates backlash from Big Tech. To soothe any apprehensions, Eshoo has said, "I was a conferee for the legislation that codified Section 230 into federal law in 1996, and I remain a steadfast supporter of the underlying principle of promoting speech online. However, algorithmic promotion of content that radicalizes individuals is a new problem that necessitates Congress to update the law."

"Amidst the recent flurry of politically motivated activity related to Section 230," Eshoo added, "I’m proud to partner with Congressman Tom Malinowski on a serious effort to respond to the specific and abhorrent problem of online radicalization that leads to offline violence."