GOP lawmakers fighting social media 'bias' move to strip liability shield

Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act would remove safe harbor provision

Senate Republicans introduced a new bill Tuesday that would remove some of the liability protections provided to social media and technology companies under the Clinton-era Communications Decency Act.

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Co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act would remove the safe harbor provision provided by Section 230 for user-posted content if a platform arbitrarily restricts access to a post.

SHOULD SECTION 230 BE REVISED?

The move would address long-standing Republican complaints that social media companies based in liberal-leaning Silicon Valley have used grounds such as promotion of hate speech and misinformation to censor conservative views.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, on Facebook's impact on the financial services and housing sectors. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Along with weakening the liability shield, the act would also alter language in the original law, strengthening terms like "objectionable" to "promoting terrorism," according to The Verge.

“Social media companies are routinely censoring content that to many, should be considered valid political speech,” Graham said in a statement Tuesday. “This reform proposal addresses the concerns of those who feel like their political views are being unfairly suppressed.”

Claims of social media censorship gained momentum when companies began attempting to remove misinformation from their platforms after U.S. intelligence agencies said they had been exploited by Russian agents attempting to influence the 2016 election.

Supporters of President Trump, including Diamond and Silk, the North Carolina video bloggers and former Fox Nation contributors, told Congress their First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech had been violated, while Democrats pointed out that the constitutional provision applies to the government, not private business.

“There exists no meaningful alternative to these powerful platforms, which means there will be no accountability for the devastating effects of this ingrained ideological bias until Congress steps in and brings liability protections into the modern era,” Blackburn said in her own statement.

In June, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., introduced the Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency (PACT) Act, which aims to force large tech platforms to explain how they moderate content in a way that is easily accessible to users.

In May, Trump signed an executive order that required the Federal Communications Commission to reinterpret Section 230. The agency is still seeking public comment on the rules changes.

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Both Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden have called for the end of the law.