GOP Senators Introduce ‘Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act’ to Fight Big Tech Censorship

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23: With an image of himself on a screen in the background, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg testified about Facebook's proposed cryptocurrency …
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Three GOP Senators have announced a new bill called the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act that aims to modify Section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act to clarify the original intent of the law and increase accountability faced by the Big Tech Masters of the Universe for their censorship of political speech.

According to a recent release from the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Sen. Roger Wicker, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and  Sen. Marsha Blackburn have introduced the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act to modify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The bill would clarify the original intent of the Communications Decency Act and would increase accountability for Big Tech’s content moderation practices. Senator Graham commented on the bill stating: “I’m very pleased to be working with Senators Wicker and Blackburn to bring about much-needed reform of Section 230. Social media companies are routinely censoring content that to many, should be considered valid political speech. This reform proposal addresses the concerns of those who feel like their political views are being unfairly suppressed.”

Senator Blackburn provided the following statement:

Big Tech companies have stretched their liability shield past its limits, and the national discourse now suffers because of it. Today’s internet is a different online product from what was available in 1996; the polished megaplatforms we associate with online research and debate exert unprecedented influence over how Americans discover new information, and what information is available for discovery.

Moreover, the contentious nature of current conversations provides perverse incentive for these companies to manipulate the online experience in favor of the loudest voices in the room. There exists no meaningful alternative to these powerful platforms, which means there will be no accountability for the devastating effects of this ingrained ideological bias until Congress steps in and brings liability protections into the modern era.

According to the release, the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act would:

  • Clarify when Section 230’s liability protections apply to instances where online platforms choose to restrict access to certain types of content;
  • Condition the content moderation liability shield on an objective reasonableness standard. In order to be protected from liability, a tech company may only restrict access to content on its platform where it has “an objectively reasonable belief” that the content falls within a certain, specified category;
  • Remove “otherwise objectionable” and replace it with concrete terms, including “promoting terrorism,” content that is determined to be “unlawful,” and content that promotes “self-harm.”
  • Clarify that the definition of “information content provider” includes instances in which a person or entity editorializes or affirmatively and substantively modifies the content created or developed by another person or entity but does not include mere changes to format, layout, or basic appearance of such content.

Breitbart News reporter Allum Bokhari outlined some of the issues that many have with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in July, writing:

Section 230 gives Big Tech companies immunity from lawsuits arising from user-generated content. If a person is defamed on Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other big tech platforms like Reddit, those platforms are not legally liable for the content like a traditional publisher might be. This allows social media platforms to host billions of posts from users without a potentially crippling legal risk.

As Big Tech platforms have grown increasingly interested in censoring content posted by their users, however, many lawmakers have argued that they are behaving like traditional publishers, censoring and editing and approving their users’ posts. As such, a growing number of lawmakers have argued that the legal immunities of Section 230 should be contingent on platforms maintaining a hands-off approach to the speech of their users.

Another problematic element of Section 230 is subsection c-2, which grants tech companies immunity from lawsuits arising from their censorship of “objectionable” content. This immunity gives them broad leeway to censor users, leaving no legal recourse for those who are censored — even if their social media accounts are critical to their livelihood or career.

The full bill can be read here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address lucasnolan@protonmail.com

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