Civil society to U.S. Congress: don’t let disinformation run rampant

On October 1, 2020, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will consider S. 4632, the Online Content Policy Modernization Act, legislation that amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — the “legal backbone of the internet” — in alarming ways.

Specifically, S.4632 would narrow Section 230 so that online services would be held liable if they remove content outside a limited set of categories, such as terrorism and self-harm. This change would create a strong disincentive for companies to take action against dangerous disinformation, hate speech, and other types of discrimination.

“In the lead up to the U.S. presidential election, it is critical that social media companies be equipped with the necessary tools to combat hate speech and misleading information, especially as it relates to voting,” said Jennifer Brody, Legislative Manager at Access Now. “Voter suppression tactics must not be tolerated, and this bill would make it harder for platforms to do the right thing and take down harmful content that threatens civil rights and U.S. democracy.”

Access Now opposes the legislation, and has joined two coalition letters publicly voicing concern. One, led by the Center for Democracy and Technology, illuminates how the bill would interfere with social media platforms’ ability to combat the spread of false content and engage in fact-checking to correct the record. The other, led by R Street Institute, focuses on how the bill would undermine First Amendment rights.