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Justice Department will reportedly propose limits to online platforms’ legal protections – CNET


The Justice Department’s proposal might be announced Wednesday.

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The Justice Department will propose rolling back the legal protections online platforms have had since the ’90s, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, to make sites more vigilant about policing content. It follows President Donald Trump’s executive order targeting social media companies.

The proposal could be announced on Wednesday, reported the Journal, citing a Trump administration official. The president’s order, which came in late May, called for a government review into Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects online companies from liability for content posted by users.

The Justice Department’s proposed legislative changes, which would need to be adopted by Congress, would strip tech firms of civil immunity in a range of circumstances, according to the Journal. It would reportedly remove legal protections when, for example, platforms facilitate things like online scams or drug trafficking, as well as instances involving online child exploitation, terrorism or cyberstalking.

The DOJ didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s executive order followed Twitter’s decision in May to slap labels on two tweets from the president about mail-in voting, saying they contained “potentially misleading information.” The dispute took another turn when Twitter then hid a tweet from Trump about protests in Minneapolis, putting it behind a label that says it violates the company’s rules about “glorifying violence.” 

Twitter’s action appears to have been a tipping point in a relationship between conservatives and social media companies that’s long been fraught. Conservatives say their speech is being censored by Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, though the companies have repeatedly denied that they engage in such censorship. Liberals have also criticized how social media companies moderate content, pointing to concerns about disinformation and hate speech.

The DOJ proposal would erode legal protections afforded to social media companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which was passed in 1996, according to the Journal. Section 230 is considered the most important law protecting free speech online. The provision essentially protects companies that host user-created content from lawsuits over posts on their services. 

The law shields not only internet service providers, like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, but also social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter and Google. It also provides sweeping protections that let social media platforms choose how they restrict content and what content they restrict.

The DOJ proposal calls for “extensive” restrictions platforms’ content-moderation, according to the Journal.

Earlier this month, the Center for Democracy and Technology sued Trump, alleging that his executive order violates the First Amendment and is a retaliatory move against Twitter.

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