Senators seek to reform Section 230 protections

Platforms would be liable for knowingly promoting harmful content under bill

The senate floor during a vote

A group of Democratic senators have launched a bill to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The law would render online platforms liable for knowingly using algorithms that promote harmful content online. 

The Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act would target algorithms that promote content contributing to physical or severe emotional injury. If passed, it would be a landmark bill for those unhappy with the blanket protection of online platforms from content liability. 

Passed in 1996 as under the Telecommunications Act, Section 230 removes online platforms' liability for content that their users might post. However, critics argue the internet has evolved since then, rendering the original legislation obsolete. 

The bill targets algorithms that personalize information for users but does not include search features. It excludes smaller platforms with fewer than 5 million users. 

The bill's authors are Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA), Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Health Subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-CA). Sen. Eshoo had previously introduced the Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act, which also sought to curb platforms' use of algorithms by modifying Section 230. 

The senators accused Facebook in particular of amplifying content that promotes conspiracy theories and incites extremism. They referred to Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former project manager at Facebook who revealed her identity in an interview with TV show 60 Minutes. 

The 37-year-old Haugen has also worked at Google and Pinterest. She worked with the Wall Street Journal to produce the Facebook Files, a series of reports alleging various damaging things about the social media company. These include accusations that Facebook knew about the potential for its Instagram social network to harm teen health. Facebook has denied these claims. 

Haugen also said during her 60 Minutes interview that a 2018 change to the social media company's news feed contributed to more divisiveness on its platform but also helped the company sell more advertising. 

Facebook has also drawn recent criticism for suspending academic accounts used to research its advertising algorithm. 

Others expressed support for the bill, including Dr. Hany Farid, senior advisor at UC Berkeley's Counter Extremism Project. 

"By hiding behind a distorted interpretation of a three-decade old regulation crafted at the dawn of the modern internet, the titans of tech have escaped responsibility for their dangerous and deadly products," he said. "This modest bill takes an important and critical step to holding Silicon Valley responsible for their reckless disregard of allowing their services to be weaponized against children, individuals, societies, and democracies." 

The bill follows a Congressional hearing in March that quizzed big tech platforms on misinformation.

Featured Resources

Next-generation time series: Forecasting for the real world, not the ideal world

Solve time series problems with AI

Free download

The future of productivity

Driving your business forward with Microsoft Office 365

Free download

How to plan for endpoint security against ever-evolving cyber threats

Safeguard your devices, data, and reputation

Free download

A quantitative comparison of UPS monitoring and servicing approaches across edge environments

Effective UPS fleet management

Free download

Recommended

FCC expels China Telecom from the US
Network & Internet

FCC expels China Telecom from the US

27 Oct 2021
US State Department to establish cyber bureau
cyber security

US State Department to establish cyber bureau

26 Oct 2021
30 countries announce crackdown on ransomware payments
ransomware

30 countries announce crackdown on ransomware payments

15 Oct 2021
Supreme Court denies Oracle appeal over JEDI contract
Cloud

Supreme Court denies Oracle appeal over JEDI contract

4 Oct 2021

Most Popular

UK spy agencies supercharge espionage efforts with AWS data deal
cloud computing

UK spy agencies supercharge espionage efforts with AWS data deal

26 Oct 2021
Best Linux distros 2021
operating systems

Best Linux distros 2021

11 Oct 2021
Apple MacBook Pro 15in vs Dell XPS 15: Clash of the titans
Laptops

Apple MacBook Pro 15in vs Dell XPS 15: Clash of the titans

11 Oct 2021