Sen. Amy Klobuchcar (D-Minn.) introduced legislation on Thursday that would remove liability protections for online platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube if the content generated on those sites spreads “misinformation” about COVID-19 or other public health emergencies.
The legislation represents the latest in an increasing stream of efforts by Democrats to censor online speech to eliminate vaccine hesitation. President Joe Biden blasted social media companies last week for “killing people” by allowing the spread of misinformation and announced his administration will work with online platforms to surveil and flag “misinformed” COVID-related posts. Politico reported on July 13 that the Democratic National Committee plans to work with cell carriers to “prevent the person-to-person spread of vaccine misinformation over text messages.”
The Health Misinformation Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), would edit Section 230, a 1934 law that protects online platforms from lawsuits over content that users post on their site. The act would create an exception to the Section 230 protections during health crises like the pandemic, allowing companies to be sued if the algorithms they use to generate suggested content for their users proliferate health misinformation.
While the full text of the bill has not yet been published, its description notes that it would make these online companies personally responsible for the content that users share: “an interactive computer service provider that allows for the proliferation of health misinformation through that service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of that misinformation.”
“The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how lethal misinformation can be and it is our responsibility to take action,” Klobuchar said in a press release. “These are some of the biggest, richest companies in the world and they must do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation. This legislation will hold online platforms accountable for the spread of health-related misinformation.”
Both Democrats and Republicans have tried to curb the reach of Big Tech, although for different reasons. While Republicans express concern over social media’s increasing regulation of right-wing content and the growing ability of tech giants to moderate public communication, Democrats are worried that online platforms allow the spread of dangerous misinformation or hate speech.
In an article for National Review, Michael Dougherty argued that such censorship would harm the ability of those who dissent from accepted narratives (like people who suggested the COVID-19 lab leak theory) to communicate and form the best scientific case to challenge potentially corrupted ideas (like the idea that a Wuhan lab could not have played any role in the pandemic).
Doughterty claimed that “The White House and Senate need to stop worrying about what people are sharing on Facebook and instead focus on winning back public trust.”