US Senator Josh Hawley introduced a bill on Wednesday, June 17, that would allow people to sue social media companies for “selectively censoring political discourse.” Social media platforms would have to update their terms of service to include a commitment that they act in good faith, and could be fined up to $ 5,000 if they break that promise. The bill would also prevent online platforms from hiding content from the competition.
“Big tech companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook have used their power to silence conservative political discourse without any recourse for users,” Hawley said in a press release, adding that current laws give them “outrageous power. “
The bill, which is being co-sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio, Mike Braun and Tom Cotton, is another attempt to amend Section 230 of the so-called Communications Decency Act of 1996. It is considered the most important law to protect speech online, as it prevents social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and Internet providers like Verizon and Comcast from facing lawsuits for posts made by users on their respective services.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed on Wednesday its proposal to amend section 230 to remove those protections.
The reforms would also remove legal protections when, for example, platforms facilitate things like illicit drug sales, cyberbullying, human trafficking, child sexual exploitation, and terrorism.
The DOJ’s proposal comes after President Donald Trump signed an executive order in late May targeting social media companies after Twitter applied a fact check tag to Trump tweets about the vote by mail, saying they contained potentially misleading information.
“Censorship and prejudice are a threat to freedom itself,” Trump said at the time of the signing, and later accused the social media companies of not being “neutral platforms.”
Later in May, Twitter also tagged a tweet from the president about protests and riots in Minnesota over the death of George Floyd in police custody. This time, Twitter rejected Trump’s tweet behind a warning tag, saying the post violates the site’s rules on “glorifying violence.”
Trump’s executive order is currently facing a lawsuit by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a non-profit organization, alleging that the order violates the First Amendment.
“The order seeks to reduce and cool the constitutionally protected discourse of all platforms and individuals by demonstrating a willingness to use government authority to retaliate against those who criticize the government,” the CDT argues in its lawsuit.