Two Democratic senators introduced a bill that would limit how Section 230, a prized legal shield for social media companies, applies to COVID-19 misinformation.
Sec. 230 lets internet publishers, including social networks like Facebook and Twitter, avoid lawsuits over users' content. The provision, which dates back to 1996, is controversial and subject to many, many reform proposals, with Democrats criticizing it for what they say is the incentive it provides for companies to leave up too much harmful content.
The latest target for many Democratic politicians is misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines that prevent it, as the U.S. inoculation rate plateaus and deaths mount from the more contagious delta variant of the virus that causes the disease. President Joe Biden has been escalating his criticism of the extensive online misinformation about COVID-19, for instance, and the White House communications director said Tuesday the administration was reviewing a Sec. 230 fix on the issue.
As a result, it was all but inevitable that bills would follow to impose potential liability on the platforms by tweaking Sec. 230 for COVID-19 or even more general health misinformation. The bill from Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Ben Ray Luján doesn't tackle all health misinformation, but according to their press release, creates an exception to the legal shield for "platforms with algorithms that promote health-related misinformation related to an existing public health emergency."
Companies have said Sec. 230 allows them to remove harmful content without facing legal threats, and Facebook has touted its efforts to surface reliable COVID-19 information. Some scholars have also raised potential First Amendment concerns, and several bills proposing to change the law have languished.