Trump Administration to Unveil Proposal for Changing Immunity for Tech Platforms

The U.S. Justice Department will propose legislation as soon as Wednesday to try to remove protections that big tech platforms like Alphabet’s Google and Facebook have had for decades, a department official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

President Donald Trump, who has battled Twitter and other tech companies over alleged censorship of conservative voices on social media platforms, said in late May he would propose legislation that may scrap or weaken the law shielding internet companies, in an extraordinary attempt to regulate the outlets where he has been criticized.

Trump wants to “remove or change” a provision of a law known as Section 230. Under the 1996 Communications Decency Act, Section 230 does not generally hold platforms responsible for what their users post and allows them to moderate the content of their sites as they see fit.

How Americans Feel About Social Media Content Liability, Moderation

Most Americans do not trust social media companies to make the right decisions about what should be allowed on their platforms, but trust the government even less to make those choices, according to a poll released on Tuesday by Gallup and the Knight Foundation.

The Justice Department plans to make a legislative proposal that Congress would have to pass, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the proposal.

Trump has attacked Twitter for tagging his tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud about mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact-check the posts.

The administration’s proposal would stop platforms from taking down content arbitrarily, instead pushing them to create rules and expectations and to enforce them consistently. It would stop companies from deleting content it finds “objectionable” and require them to explain their decisions.

The proposal would seek to hold tech platforms accountable if they facilitate scams or child exploitation or other violations of federal criminal law.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Carl Szabo, general counsel of NetChoice which counts Google and Facebook among its members, said any such bill would make it harder for companies like Google, which owns YouTube, to moderate content to remove, for example, videos used to recruit terrorists.

“Because this would prevent platforms from removing objectionable content, the House (of Representatives) won’t take it up,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, Senator Josh Hawley joined with three other Republicans to introduce a bill that would allow people to sue tech companies if they feel that their speech has been censored.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Andrea Ricci)