The Justice Department will unveil a legislative plan as soon as Wednesday to limit Section 230 protections for tech companies in the wake of President Trump’s executive order and Google’s publicized threat to ban ad revenue to The Federalist, according to the Wall Street Journal.
According to an unnamed DOJ official, the legislative package will include provisions that could strip protections under Section 230, which exempts social-media companies from civil liability for third-party content containing false or misleading information.
The official said that if platforms “facilitate or solicit” third-party content that violates federal criminal law, such as online scams, drug or sex trafficking, online child exploitation, terrorism, or cyberstalking, they would lose protections to “allow victims to seek redress.”
The proposal also aims to force platforms to adhere to “reasonable rules and explanations” in policing content and potential violations, and will target politically biased content-moderation by revising a federal provision that allows tech platforms to delete content based merely on an “objectionable” standard.
The news comes after Google threatened to ban conservative outlet The Federalist from generating advertising revenue on the company’s platform over materials in its comments section that Google deemed “dangerous or derogatory content.” After The Federalist was forced to delete its comments section to comply, Google said the matter was “resolved.”
The threat came after NBC News contacted Google and flagged a report on hate speech and disinformation from a British think tank called the “Center for Countering Digital Hate” (CCDH). The reporter from NBC’s “Verification Center” who broke the story then congratulated the CCDH and its subsidiary project “Stop Funding Fake News” on the action.
In May, sources told the Journal that the DOJ is planning an antitrust lawsuit against Google that could be launched as soon as this summer.
Last month, Trump signed an executive order that challenged protections for social-media companies, and asked Attorney General Bill Barr to “develop a proposal for Federal legislation that would be useful to promote the policy objectives of this order.”
At the unveiling of the order, Barr warned that while platforms “held themselves out as free public forums, where a variety of diverse voices can come on and be heard,” they “have become these very powerful networks…they’ve now switched, and [are] using that market power to force particular viewpoints.” The comments came after he told DOJ colleagues in February that “valid questions have been raised on whether Section 230’s broad immunity is still necessary, at least in its current form.”