DOJ to Propose Legislation Targeting Legal Immunities for Internet Companies, in Bid to Curb Illegal Content

The Justice Department will propose on Wednesday that Congress craft legislation stripping big internet companies of some legal immunities in an attempt to curb illegal or unfair practices, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The proposal calls for legislation curbing the immunities granted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields internet platforms from legal liability if a user uploads illegal content, such as a defamatory or libelous blog post. The Justice Department hopes that by threatening to revoke this immunity in certain cases and open up internet companies to potentially damaging lawsuits, Congress can essentially compel those companies to institute practices and policies that are better for the civic health of the country.

Both Republicans and Democrats have voiced concerns over aspects of various internet companies over the past several years. Democrats have criticized Facebook in particular for what they see is the company’s permissive attitude toward the spread of false information, while Republicans including President Trump have lashed out at Twitter and other companies for what they perceive as biases against conservatives and the collection of user data.

The Justice Department’s proposal has been refined over the past two months since it was unveiled in June, a State Department official told the Journal, although the general outline remains to push internet companies to more aggressively address illegal activities. The Department has conferred with victims’ rights groups as well as internet market participants, and clarified that companies will retain legal immunity if they remove illegal content.

Tech companies have pushed back on efforts to moderate Section 230 protections.

“The threat of litigation for every content moderation decision would hamper [Internet Association] member companies’ ability to set and enforce community guidelines and quickly respond to new challenges,” the Internet Association, a trade group representing Twitter, Facebook, and others, stated in June.

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