A new bill in the U.S. Senate could cause the internet as we know it to discontinue to exist by holding major tech companies like Facebook or YouTube responsible for anything posted on their platforms.
On Wednesday, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced a controversial law that would change Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Known as the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, it has caused a bipartisan backlash on how it would affect tech companies, content creators, and everyday users.
Tech companies like Twitter or YouTube currently have protection under Section 230 against being held liable for what users post on the site. That’s why you typically can’t use Facebook for a hateful statement someone else posts on your timeline.
The bill focuses on limiting political bias, according to a press release from Hawley’s office. Companies could apply for immunity from liability by submitting external audits to prove that their algorithms and content removal policies were politically neutral, which would then have to be reviewed and approved by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In practice, companies would have to moderate their content either way — they would either be liable for user content and could get sued, or they’d have to ensure their content seemed politically neutral, a decision made by a government agency.
The bill would only affect the biggest companies, including Twitter, Facebook, and Google — those with more than 30 million U.S. users, 300 million global users, or $500 million in revenue.
“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 tech lobbying group the Internet Association. “That shouldn’t be a tradeoff.”