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WEDNESDAY: TESTIMONY FROM SOCIAL-MEDIA CEOS
by Sharon Rondeau
(Oct. 26, 2020) — Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), is soliciting accounts from the public of alleged “censorship” by social-media and informational platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google.
Blackburn served in the U.S. House of Representatives and, prior to that, the Tennessee legislature. She was elected to the Senate in 2018, filling the vacancy left by the retirement of Sen. Robert Corker (R). She currently serves on four Senate committees: Commerce, Science & Transportation; Judiciary; Veterans Affairs; and Armed Services and leads the Judiciary Committee’s Tech Task Force formed last year “to tackle tech industry issues on privacy, data security, censorship, antitrust and competition.”
On October 15, Blackburn issued a statement on her website contending that “Conservatives have suffered under liberal mob rule. Even I have been a victim of Silicon Valley’s irresponsible policies. As Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Tech Task Force, I am working with President Trump and my colleagues to examine efforts to reform Section 230.”
“Section 230” refers to that portion of the 1996 Communications Decency Act which, in the dawning of the internet era, provided social-media platforms with liability protection when posting submitted content from all points of view, in contrast with “publishers,” who bear responsibility for the content of their pages.
“Silicon Valley has crossed the line with irresponsible content moderation and outright censorship of conservative voices,” Blackburn wrote in the statement. She further said:
Section 230 of the Communications Act, Big Tech’s content moderation law, is the shield Big Tech companies have stretched and abused since its passage nearly 25 years ago. Since then, business practices and judicial interpretations have created gaps that Congress needs to address. If we left this to the courts, they’d be litigating content moderation disputes all day, every day. The courts have so broadly interpreted the scope of 230 that tech companies are now incented to over-curate their platforms.
Congress needs a legislative solution to make companies to own their moderation practices, and follow it.
Blackburn also announced that the CEOs of the aforementioned companies have been “called to testify” to the Senate Commerce Committee this Wednesday, October 28.
Along with Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), who serves as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee; and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is currently chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Blackburn has introduced the “Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act” with the intent “to modify the scope of protection from civil liability for ‘good Samaritan’ blocking and screening of offensive material.”
According to Blackburn, the bill, if passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, 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.