Bipartisan Bill Would Hold Tech Companies Responsible for Moderating Content

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The legislation would make changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The federal law that provides a legal liability shield to tech and social media companies for content posted on their platforms would receive a significant makeover under new bipartisan legislation introduced Wednesday in the Senate.

The Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act, introduced by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii and John Thune, R-S.D., would remove some existing protections companies have through Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and force them to be accountable for moderating content on their platforms.

“Section 230 gave internet companies the flexibility to grow the internet economy along with the responsibility of setting and enforcing reasonable rules on content. After 25 years, it is clear that some companies have not done enough,” Schatz said in a statement. “Our bipartisan bill updates Section 230 by making platforms more accountable for their content moderation policies and providing more tools to protect consumers.”

The bill focuses on increasing transparency, accountability and consumer protection. First, it would require online platforms to explain content moderation practices in an acceptable use policy “easily accessible to consumers” and mandate biannual reporting for companies that disseminate what content has been moderated. It would also promote “open collaboration and sharing” of industry best practices through a National Institute of Standards and Technology-led voluntary framework.

The legislation strengthens accountability by forcing large online platforms to create a “defined complaint system” that processes and notifies users of moderation decisions within 21 days. The bill would also force companies to remote court-determined illegal content within four days.

And the legislation would exempt the enforcement of federal civil laws from Section 230, effectively disallowing tech companies and online platforms from using the law as a defense when pursued by federal regulators such as the Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission.

“The bipartisan PACT Act is a common-sense legislative approach to preserve user-generated content and free speech on the internet, while increasing consumer transparency and the accountability of big internet platforms,” Thune said in a statement. “This legislation would take several meaningful steps in the right direction, and it’s a big win for America’s ever-expanding digital landscape and the consumers who depend on it.”

Section 230 has come under scrutiny from lawmakers and presidents on both sides of the aisle in recent years, with both former President Trump and President Biden taking issue with it. The Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act’s introduction comes days before House lawmakers are expecting to hear from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on platform misinformation. The hearing is scheduled for March 25. 

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