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Legal experts back Section 230 reform

 

Legal experts weigh in on Section 230 reform

The four bills discussed during the hearing included the:

  • Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act — prohibits immunity for interactive computer services for certain claims, such as cases involving algorithms that were used to promote, recommend or amplify information.
  • Civil Rights Modernization Act of 2021 – clarifies that Section 230 does not affect investigations or enforcement of civil rights laws.
  • Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms (SAFE) Act – reaffirms victims’ rights and consumer protections.
  • Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act of 2021 – limits liability protection for platform providers that recklessly make recommendations of third-party information.

Matthew Wood, vice president of policy and general counsel at independent media advocacy group Free Press Action, said while the four bills feature promising concepts, he also has some concerns particularly about language in some of the bills such as the Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act of 2021 and Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act. Creating legislation for the algorithms could lead to hard questions about definitions and exemptions rather than focusing on a platform provider’s knowledge or liability, he said.

“We don’t want to prevent accountability when platforms’ actions cause harm, even in the absence of personalized recommendations,” he said.

Additionally, Wood said Section 230 is a “foundational and necessary” law that benefits not just tech companies, but also people who share ideas online. Wood said it’s important for Congress to preserve Section 230’s benefits while considering revisions to “better align court outcomes with the statute’s plain text.”

Section 230 should allow injured third parties to hold platforms liable, he said. Though courts have let some lawsuits go forward, most courts have opted not to hold platforms liable. Court cases like Zeran v. America Online Inc. (AOL) that ruled Section 230 provides Internet service providers with immunity from online libel suits, prevent plaintiffs from testing liability for platform conduct, Wood said.

Mary Franks, professor at the University of Miami School of Law, also supported Section 230 reform.

Franks said big tech lacks the incentive to behave responsibly. Liability protection provided As long as tech companies can continue to operate without liability, they will continue to cause harm, she said.

“The possibility of liability forces people and industries to take care, internalize risk and prevent foreseeable harm,” she said.

 

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