The White House is doing everything it can to combat misinformation about COVID that has been circulating all over social media in the midst of the pandemic (with cases in the US rising in numbers again despite vaccine programs).
Two senators have introduced a measure that would strip social media corporations of Section 230 protections if they help spread misinformation about a public health crisis like COVID.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which prevents businesses like Facebook, Google, and Twitter from being sued over their users’ posts, is still being looked into by lawmakers. Separately, two Senators want to cut out a provision for health misinformation posted by users from the Section 230 safeguards.
Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) have introduced the Health Misinformation Act. The statute requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop and distribute standards on what constitutes health misinformation.
“For far too long, online platforms have not done enough to protect the health of Americans,” said Klobuchar in a statement. “These are some of the biggest, richest companies in the world and they must do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation.”
“The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how lethal misinformation can be and it is our responsibility to take action,” she added.
Facebook’s vice president of public policy, Kevin Martin, stated that the bill might be beneficial to the technology industry.
“We have long supported common industry standards and section 230 reform,” Martin said. “We believe clarification on the difficult and urgent questions about health related misinformation would be helpful and look forward to working with Congress and the industry as we consider options for reform.”
The proposed bill, as written, would make Facebook and others accountable in cases when health misinformation is linked to an emergency, such as the coronavirus. When such misinformation is distributed and magnified as a result of the social media company’s algorithms, rather than a chronological feed, the senators want the Section 230 exception to apply.
The bill would deprive companies of that legal protection if their algorithms spread health misinformation during a public health emergency. It would not be applicable if such misinformation was displayed in a chronological feed. (Most social platforms use algorithms to rank posts based on what users are likely to be interested in.)
At the moment, Section 230 protects platforms explicitly from illicit content being shared on their services. The amendments appear unlikely to pass because it is unclear how the idea meshes with first amendment safeguards. The first amendment protects lies and even purposeful falsehoods from being used to create laws like this, and there is decades of judicial precedence to back that up.
The suggestion comes just days after President Joe Biden alleged that misinformation on Facebook and other platforms is “killing people.” Later, the President clarified that it is not Facebook that is murdering people, but rather the misinformation that is spread and magnified by such platforms.