Senator Josh Hawley Introduces Bill to Stop Big Tech Censorship

Chris Menahan
InformationLiberation
Jun. 19, 2019

Senator Josh Hawley introduced the "Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act" on Wednesday which if passed would force Big Tech companies to either respect free speech and the First Amendment and behave as unbiased platforms or lose their section 230 protections which shield them from liability.

Hawley released the following statement on his Senate page:
Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, a major update to the way big tech companies are treated under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).

Sen. Hawley's legislation removes the immunity big tech companies receive under Section 230 unless they submit to an external audit that proves by clear and convincing evidence that their algorithms and content-removal practices are politically neutral. Sen. Hawley's legislation does not apply to small and medium-sized tech companies.

"With Section 230, tech companies get a sweetheart deal that no other industry enjoys: complete exemption from traditional publisher liability in exchange for providing a forum free of political censorship," said Senator Hawley. "Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, big tech has failed to hold up its end of the bargain.

"There's a growing list of evidence that shows big tech companies making editorial decisions to censor viewpoints they disagree with. Even worse, the entire process is shrouded in secrecy because these companies refuse to make their protocols public. 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."

Background

The Communications Decency Act protects companies from liability for illegal content posted by third parties. Congress passed this law in 1996 when the Internet was in its infancy and Congress was concerned that subjecting hosting platforms to the same civil liability as all other businesses would chill their growth.

But the Internet has long passed its infancy. The largest and most powerful companies today are big tech companies. And they have enormous resources and advanced algorithms that they can use to help them moderate content. Those companies should not receive this government subsidy free of any responsibility.

Because these companies control the very information we receive, we must ensure that they moderate content in a politically neutral manner. Today's most powerful companies must not be allowed to interfere with the policy Congress established, when passing the CDA, to ensure "a forum for a true diversity of political discourse." 47 U.S.C. § 230(a)(3).

It is time to shine light onto what big tech companies do and force them to provide transparency about their content moderation practices.

What Senator Hawley's bill does
  • Removes automatic immunity under Section 230 from big tech companies
  • Gives big tech companies the ability to earn immunity through external audits
    • Big tech companies would have to prove to the FTC by clear and convincing evidence that their algorithms and content-removal practices are politically neutral
    • The FTC could not certify big tech companies for immunity except by a supermajority vote
    • Big tech companies would be responsible for the cost of conducting audits
    • Big tech companies would have to reapply for immunity every two years
  • Preserves existing immunity for small and medium-sized companies
    • The bill applies only to companies with more than 30 million active monthly users in the U.S., more than 300 million active monthly users worldwide, or who have more than $500 million in global annual revenue
Big Tech lobbyists responded to the bill by saying that forcing them to respect Free Speech and the First Amendment is forcing them to support the KKK.

From CNBC:
"This bill forces platforms to make an impossible choice: either host reprehensible, but First Amendment protected speech, or lose legal protections that allow them to moderate illegal content like human trafficking and violent extremism," said Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, in a statement. "That shouldn't be a tradeoff."

A Facebook spokesman also pointed at a statement provided by NetChoice, a trade association focused on e-commerce businesses whose members include Facebook, Twitter and Google.
This is a great opportunity to point out that Facebook, which owns Instagram, is actively promoting a "trans disabled model" who last week called for the "killing" of all "transphobes."


It's been a full week and they have not taken their posts promoting Philip down, nor have they condemned Philip's call for mass slaughter.
"This bill prevents social media websites from removing dangerous and hateful content, since that could make them liable for lawsuits over any user's posting," said Carl Szabo, general counsel at NetChoice, in a statement. "Sen. Hawley's bill creates an internet where content from the KKK would display alongside our family photos and cat videos."

A Twitter spokeswoman also pointed to a statement provided by Americans for Prosperity, a policy group funded by the libertarian Koch family.

"This bill would punish success in the next generation of innovative startups and prevent them from achieving their full potential," AFP said in its statement. "Lawmakers should reject this legislation."

The Computer & Communications Industry Association, a group that represents computer, communications and internet companies, also criticized Hawley's bill.

"At a time when white nationalists are stealthily seeding calls in the mainstream press for ‘viewpoint neutrality,' it's troubling that the senator would contemplate legislation forcing online services to carry these views," the CCIA said in a statement. "American businesses shouldn't be forced to be neutral toward racism and extremism."
If the Koch brothers are against it, that's how you know the bill is good.

It's just a few pages, feel free to read it yourself. From my reading, it looked very solid.

The most important factor is that it would only apply to the biggest tech firms. This would not effect anyone but the largest companies and the Koch Industries lobbyist who claimed it would "punish success in the next generation of innovative startups" is a liar.

The fact of the matter is all these companies supported free speech and took a largely hands off approach to censoring political content up until Trump won his election -- at which point they all went into overdrive. By their own above definitions, that means they supported the KKK, neo-nazis, child exploitation and piracy.

These companies are now trying to claim returning to the largely neutral policies they had just a few years ago will cause the planet to explode.

If this bill would hurt Big Tech companies -- which I hope it would -- that's just more reason to support it. Innovation has dramatically stalled due to these companies buying up all their smaller competitors and now they're using their monopoly status to suppress political dissent and rig our elections.

We should all applaud Senator Hawley for taking the fight to these unAmerican monopolies on behalf of the American people. If these Big Tech companies want to behave like publishers then they should be treated like publishers.

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