Eager to bring some accountability to the tech sector, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Mazie Hirono and Mark Warner introduced their latest bid Friday with the introduction of the Safe Tech Act.
The bill takes aim at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a key piece of legislation that frees technology companies from liability over the content posted by users. With the proposed measure, online platforms wouldn’t be able to use Section 230 to shield themselves in particular cases — namely when alleged violations of federal and state laws relating to civil rights, antitrust, cyber-stalking, human rights or civil actions tied to wrongful deaths are at stake.
For years, Section 230 provided a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card to platform companies as their sites are openly and repeatedly used by bad actors to cause damage and injury. Section 230 will be brought into the present-day with the SAFE TECH Act creating targeted exceptions. (2/8)
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) February 5, 2021
The goal, the senators said in a joint statement, was to ensure that Big Tech can’t elude consequences, especially when it comes to high-risk situations. Companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter must be held accountable for “enabling cyber-stalking, targeted harassment and discrimination on their platforms,” Klobuchar, Hirono and Warner explained.
The scope covers more than just musings from social media users. Tech companies would be on the hook for paid content as well, including advertisements and marketplace listings. They also couldn’t invoke Section 230 to beat back court orders.
“We need to be asking more from big tech companies, not less,” Klobuchar said Friday. “How they operate has a real-life effect on the safety and civil rights of Americans and people around the world, as well as our democracy. Holding these platforms accountable for ads and content that can lead to real-world harm is critical, and this legislation will do just that.”
Reform of the tech protection is one of the rare issues that both sides of the aisle agree on, though they differ on what changes need to happen. Republicans have voiced support for a complete repeal of Section 230, while Democrats seek to restructure or limit the law.
As it is, some tech companies have said they are open to reform and understand the need for some sort of change, including executives from major social media companies like Twitter and Facebook. That’s notable, considering they have been blasted — perhaps more than other social platforms — for failing to adequately address misinformation and disinformation, especially in the weeks leading up to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
But clearly they and other companies do not want to see a total repeal of Section 230. Their reactions to the Safe Tech Act will be closely watched in the days ahead.
It’s not the only bill in the works either. One from the Republican side, driven by Sens. Roger Wicker and Lindsey Graham, is reportedly on the way, as well as another from Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, plus a bipartisan effort from Democrat Brian Schatz and Republican John Thune.