GOP senator takes on big-tech with new ‘censorship’ act, will require proof of political neutrality

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Screen capture … Freshman Republican Senator Josh Hawley, of Missouri … Credit: EWTN

On Wednesday, Silicon Valley nemesis Republican Senator Josh Hawley proposed legislation he says would require big tech companies to demonstrate they are politically neutral before getting certain legal protections. There seems to be bi-partisan support for similar kinds of legislative revisions, though some fellow conservatives express concern that Hawley’s bill is not the ticket to getting it done effectively.

“Tech companies get a sweetheart deal that no other industry enjoys: complete exemption from traditional publisher liability in exchange for providing a forum free of political censorship. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, big tech has failed to hold up its end of the bargain,” Hawley said in a statement on his official website.

“There’s a growing list of evidence that shows big tech companies making editorial decisions to censor viewpoints they disagree with. Even worse, the entire process is shrouded in secrecy because these companies refuse to make their protocols public. This legislation simply states that if the tech giants want to keep their government-granted immunity, they must bring transparency and accountability to their editorial processes and prove that they don’t discriminate,” he continued.

Hawley’s bill revises the way big tech companies are treated under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), removing immunity the companies receive under Section 230 “unless they submit to an external audit that proves by clear and convincing evidence that their algorithms and content-removal practices are politically neutral.” The legislation does not apply to small and medium-sized tech companies, according to the senator’s statement.

The Communications Decency Act was passed in 1996, when the internet was a new, fast-growing medium for users. It has protected companies from liability for illegal content posted by third parties.

According to Hawley’s statement, the bill entitled the “Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act,” …

  • Removes automatic immunity under Section 230 from big tech companies
  • Gives big tech companies the ability to earn immunity through external audits
    • Big tech companies would have to prove to the FTC by clear and convincing evidence that their algorithms and content-removal practices are politically neutral
    • The FTC could not certify big tech companies for immunity except by a supermajority vote
    • Big tech companies would be responsible for the cost of conducting audits
    • Big tech companies would have to reapply for immunity every two years
  • Preserves existing immunity for small and medium-sized companies
    • The bill applies only to companies with more than 30 million active monthly users in the U.S., more than 300 million active monthly users worldwide, or who have more than $500 million in global annual revenue.

Support for changes to Section 230 of the CDA has come from across the political spectrum. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Recode in April that big tech is not treating the immunity provision “with the respect that they should. For the privilege of 230, there has to be a bigger sense of responsibility on it, and it is not out of the question that that could be removed.”

It’s time for Congress “to have a debate in this area around content,” Democrat Sen. Mark Warner said on Monday.

Several conservative politicians and pundits have voiced approval for Hawley’s bill, but others fear that it is going about its intended goal the wrong way. “Senator Hawley’s misguided legislation sets the table for stricter government control over free expression online,” said Billy Easley of Americans for Prosperity in a statement. “Eroding the crucial protections that exist under Section 230 creates a scenario where government has the ability to police your speech and determine what you can or cannot say online. Sen. Hawley has argued that some tech platforms have become too powerful, but legislation like this would only cement the market dominance of today’s largest firms.”

Easley and his conservative organization are not alone with that concern about their interpretation of the bill …



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