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Hawley to Introduce Bill Making It Easier to Sue Big Tech Firms Over Political Bias

Senator Josh Hawley (R, Mo.) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 3, 2019 (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) plans to introduce legislation that would make it easier for consumers to sue big tech companies that display overt political bias, his office announced Wednesday.

The bill would make firms like Facebook, Youtube, and Google legally liable for user-generated content, unless and until they can demonstrate that their content moderation processes are unaffected by political bias.

“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,” Hawley said in a news release.

Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, tech platforms are currently immune from legal action related to the user-generated content they host.

Hawley, who has emerged as the foremost Republican critic of big tech in his first months in office, plans to strip companies of that protection in order to counter the anti-conservative bias he believes is rife within Silicon Valley firms. In doing so, he is channeling the longstanding Republican charge that social media platforms profit from a double standard in which they curate user content according to their political biases, in much the same way a publisher would, while continuing to benefit from the legal protections afforded to neutral platforms.

The proposed legislation would only apply to sites that have more than 30 million active users in the U.S., 50 million active users worldwide or more than $500 million in annual revenue. Companies that exceed those benchmarks would be required to demonstrate every two years “by clear and convincing evidence” that they do not “negatively affect a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint” through their content curation.

The bill currently has no co-sponsors and will likely face stiff opposition from Democrats, who disbelieve the charge of anti-conservative bias, and business-friendly Republicans averse to exposing tech firms to seemingly endless litigation.

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