Sen. Hawley’s Proposed Bill Ends Free Speech Protections For Big Tech

A new bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, June 19 could change the way people post to social media platforms.

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Sen. Hawley’s Proposed Bill Ends Free Speech Protections For Big Tech
Credit: Josh Hawley via Facebook

Hawley’s bill, Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, proposes amendments to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which would end the immunity that large tech companies, such as Facebook and Google, making them liable for content posted to their sites. This would mean social media giants would have to vet each post for potentially libelous or illegal material.

“With Section 230, tech companies get a sweetheart deal that no other industry enjoys: complete exemption from traditional publisher liability in exchange for providing a forum free of political censorship,” Hawley said. “Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, big tech has failed to hold up its end of the bargain.”

The bill’s introduction guises itself as a way to “amend the Communications Decency Act to encourage providers of interactive computer services to provide content moderation that is politically neutral. The current law grants certain immunity and protection against content posted by its users and other third parties, passed by Congress in 1996.

Hawley’s bill would require big tech companies to provide the FTC “clear and convincing evidence that their algorithms and content-removal practices are politically neutral.”

According to CBNC, this policy would affect companies with “more than 30 million U.S. users, 300 million global users or $500 million in annual revenue.” This would mainly restrict platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google.

The bill states that services like Facebook could not moderate posts that “negatively affects or restricts access to a political party, political candidate or political viewpoint.” Recently, Facebook has implemented strategies to target pro-white nationalist content from its platform. With this new bill in place, Facebook would have to publish this content.

Think Progress, a progressive news platform project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, wrote that under this new stipulation, Nazism would fall under a political viewpoint.  “The belief that white Americans should start a race war to eradicate people of color is another example of a political viewpoint,” Think Progress reported. “The belief that the president of the United States should be assassinated because of his conduct in office is another example of a political viewpoint. Under Hawley’s bill, major Internet platforms would not be able to restrict these viewpoints on their site.”

Critiques of Hawley’s bill state it would allow the government to decide who gets to post content, fundamentally attacking American’s First Amendment rights.

Twitter user USN_Goblin tweeted, “Somehow this particular government deciding what can and cannot be said is frightening.”

Reporter Mark Joseph Stern of Slate wrote that the bill doesn’t directly punish companies that fail to comply with the guidelines, but it does strip them of immunity, subjecting them to lawsuits. “But this indirect penalization still raises constitutional concerns,” Stern wrote. “The Supreme Court has limited Congress’ ability to impose conditions on a government benefit—most notably, by forcing beneficiaries to comply with a speech code. Hawley’s bill arguably runs afoul of this bar on ‘unconstitutional conditions,’ compelling tech companies to surrender their own free speech to retain Section 230 immunity.”

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