Senator Hawley has spearheaded a movement that could strike at the very roots of functioning of America’s tech giants like Twitter, Facebook and Google’s YouTube. He aims to introduce legislation that would eliminate Section 230 immunity enjoyed by the tech companies.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 provides protection to tech companies from liability for content posts uploaded by users. Companies will be able to gain immunity only on submission of audits at a two yearly interval that will prove the political neutrality of their algorithms and practices for content deletion. This requirement would necessitate the big tech to change the way their business models function and their dependence on massive amounts of user generated content.
Hawley is not alone in voicing his concern over the efforts undertaken by these companies to ensure that unlawful and offensive content does not appear on their platforms. He has got several supporters from the Congress. Section 230 has all along offered these companies a very easy deal with regard to getting exemption from publisher liability unlike the traditional forums in return for a medium that is devoid of censorship from the political quarter.
Immunity for medium and smaller sized companies will continue as per Hawley’s bill as it is only the big tech that will be affected. These will have to convince the Federal Trade Commission about the political neutrality of their forums and obtain immunity certification from them afresh after every two years.
Different sources voiced their opposition to Hawley’s bill stating that it would be tantamount to government policing of all online data. These included various groups like the Internet Association, Americans for Prosperity and the Electronic Frontier Foundation besides the big tech companies.
Senator Mark Warner, D-Va stated that it was time for some rethinking on Section 230 and called for a debate in this context with regard to content.