TR Daily Klobuchar, Luján Offer Bill to Limit Section 230 Protection for Health Misinformation
Friday, July 23, 2021

Klobuchar, Luján Offer Bill to Limit Section 230 Protection for Health Misinformation

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and Ben Ray Luján (D., N.M.) have introduced a bill that would eliminate the immunity from liability for third-party content in section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for social media platforms and other Internet intermediaries with respect to the promotion of health misinformation using an algorithm during a health emergency declared by the secretary of Health and Human Services.

Section 230 creates a safe harbor for interactive computer service providers, such as Facebook or Twitter, to attempt to police third-party content for illegal or otherwise objectionable materials without being treated as the publisher of the content.

The proposed Health Misinformation Act would allow interactive computer service providers to be treated as publishers or speakers of "health misinformation that is created or developed through the interactive computer service during a [declared health emergency] if the provider promotes that health misinformation through an algorithm used by the provider (or similar software functionality), except that this subparagraph shall not apply if that promotion occurs through a neutral mechanism, such as through the use of chronological functionality."

The bill would also direct HHS to issue guidance on what constitutes health misinformation.

"One study found that during the coronavirus pandemic, social media platforms failed to act on 95 percent of coronavirus-related disinformation reported to them. In addition, vaccine hesitancy remains a large threat to public health. A recent poll found two-thirds of people who are not vaccinated against the coronavirus believe common myths about the coronavirus vaccine," according to a press release from Sen. Klobuchar’s office.

Sen. Klobuchar said, "For far too long, online platforms have not done enough to protect the health of Americans. These are some of the biggest, richest companies in the world and they must do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation. Earlier this year, I called on Facebook and Twitter to remove accounts that are responsible for producing the majority of misinformation about the coronavirus [TR Daily, April 19], but we need a long term solution. This legislation will hold online platforms accountable for the spread of health-related misinformation. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how lethal misinformation can be and it is our responsibility to take action."

Sen. Luján said, "Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube did little while COVID-19 related misinformation spread on their platforms—fueling distrust in public health officials, promoting conspiracy theories, and putting lives at risk. Online platforms must stop the spread of deadly misinformation, and I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Klobuchar to hold these companies accountable. As COVID-19 cases rise among the unvaccinated, so has the amount of misinformation surrounding vaccines on social media. Lives are at stake."

The Internet Association was critical of the bill.

IA President and Chief Executive Officer K. Dane Snowden said, "Content moderation by online platforms has been highly effective at detecting and removing millions of pieces of misinformation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the process is continually improving. Since the pandemic began billions of people have turned to online platforms for authoritative and credible information about the virus and the vaccines. Section 230 and the First Amendment empower online platforms to act quickly and stop misinformation as they root it out. Making internet companies susceptible to more lawsuits and legal exposure will only encumber efforts to effectively moderate misinformation and does not address the larger issue of how misinformation proliferates through the entire media ecosystem that also includes broadcast, cable and talk radio." —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]

MainStory: FederalNews Congress InternetIoT Covid19

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