America Moves to Protect Free Speech Online

America Moves to Protect Free Speech Online

The United States Justice Department is calling for legal reform that would make online platforms accountable when they unlawfully censor speech or knowingly facilitate online criminal activity. 

The DOJ, on behalf of the Trump administration, sent draft legislation to Congress yesterday to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The draft legislative text implements reforms deemed necessary by the Department in its June Recommendations and follows a year-long review of the statute. 

Current interpretations of the deliberately vaguely worded Section 230 enable online platforms to censor whatever lawful speech they don't agree with, with impunity, feeding the growth of a 'cancel culture' in which only one opinion is permitted and the opportunity for free and open debate is quashed. 

To promote transparency and open discourse, the draft legislation proposes removing the shield of immunity from the hands of online platforms that willfully distribute illegal material or that moderate content in a way that isn't deemed fair to the public. 

"The department’s legislative proposal revises and clarifies the existing language of Section 230 and replaces vague terms that may be used to shield arbitrary content moderation decisions with more concrete language that gives greater guidance to platforms, users, and courts," stated the DOJ yesterday.

The legislative proposal also adds language to the definition of “information content provider” in an attempt to clarify when platforms should be responsible for speech that they “affirmatively and substantively contribute to or modify.”

Further amendments proposed by the DOJ are aimed at incentivizing platforms to address the growing amount of illicit content online, while preserving the core of Section 230’s immunity for defamation claims.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said: “The Department’s proposal is an important step in reforming Section 230 to further its original goal: providing liability protection to encourage good behavior online."

Legislative carve-outs were suggested that would block online immunity in cases of child abuse, terrorism, cyber-stalking, and for "truly bad actors," allowing victims to seek redress via civil claims. 

“For too long Section 230 has provided a shield for online platforms to operate with impunity,” said US Attorney General William Barr. “Ensuring that the internet is a safe, but also vibrant, open and competitive environment is vitally important to America."

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