Today the U.S. Department of Justice is set to officially submit to Congress a proposal to remove long-standing protections for internet companies. The proposed legislation is the culmination of months of similar proposals by the Republican party, all meant to strip the protections provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230).
We’ve been hearing whispers of the DOJ’s proposal since mid-June. The proposal looks to force companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google to take more responsibility for the content posted to their site, as well as to introduce standards by which all internet sites should be moderated in the name of “fairness.”
The DOJ’s proposal is, at the moment at least, just that: a proposal. It will need to make its way through the law-making process before anything is made official — and, given the current election cycle and the ongoing pandemic, it probably won’t make it through Congress until at least next year. But its passing would send long-lasting tremors through the internet we’ve grown to love.
Not much has changed — The proposal being handed over to Congress today is very similar to the one we heard about in June. It’s effectively an extension of President Trump’s executive order created in retaliation to Twitter’s “censoring” of his tweets, which are often full of misinformation and calls for violence.
A senior DOJ official told The Wall Street Journal that the proposal has been somewhat refined since June, with feedback from market participants and stakeholders taken into account. We know of at least one fairly significant change that’s been made to the proposal: it’s been clarified that internet companies will still have legal immunity when taking down material that promotes violent extremism or self-harm.
Free speech? — Lawmakers — mostly Republican ones — have pushed legislature altering CDA 230 because, they say, it’s allowing social media companies to remove content with reckless abandon. The GOP is at the forefront of this movement, claiming their voices, in particular, are being silenced, despite massive evidence to the contrary.
It’s unclear exactly what “standards” the DOJ expects internet companies to uphold. Swaths of tech experts agree that, if not treated with the utmost care, revisions to CDA 230 could be devastating for the internet. If companies are held to ridiculously high standards with the threat of legal action, they’re likely to take a much more aggressive approach to moderating their platforms.
Conservative bias aside, the nature of “free” speech on the internet is rapidly being called into question. Whether or not the DOJ’s proposal passes, this is an issue we’re sure to be dealing with for a very long time.