DOJ issues guideline for online content

DOJ issues recommendations for Section 230 reform

The Department of Justice has released a set of reform proposals to update the outdated immunity for online platforms under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Responding to bipartisan concerns about the scope of 230 immunity, the department identified a set of concrete reform proposals to provide stronger incentives for online platforms to address illicit material on their services while continuing to foster innovation and free speech.

The department’s review of Section 230 over the last ten months arose in the context of its broader review of market-leading online platforms and their practices, which were announced in July 2019.

The department held a large public workshop and expert roundtable in February 2020, as well as dozens of listening sessions with industry, thought leaders, and policy makers, to gain a better understanding of the uses and problems surrounding Section 230.

The first category of recommendations is aimed at incentivizing platforms to address the growing amount of illicit content online, while preserving the core of Section 230’s immunity for defamation claims.

These reforms include a carve-out for bad actors who purposefully facilitate or solicit content that violates federal criminal law or are willfully blind to criminal content on their own services.

Additionally, the department recommends a case-specific carve out where a platform has actual knowledge that content violated federal criminal law and does not act on it within a reasonable time, or where a platform was provided with a court judgment that the content is unlawful, and does not take appropriate action.

A second category of proposed reforms is intended to clarify the text and revive the original purpose of the statute in order to promote free and open discourse online and encourage greater transparency between platforms and users.

One of these recommended reforms is to provide a statutory definition of “good faith” to clarify its original purpose.

The new statutory definition would limit immunity for content moderation decisions to those done in accordance with plain and particular terms of service and consistent with public representations. These measures would encourage platforms to be more transparent and accountable to their users.

The third category of recommendations would increase the ability of the government to protect citizens from unlawful conduct, by making it clear that Section 230 does not apply to civil enforcement actions brought by the federal government.

A fourth category of reform is to make clear that federal antitrust claims are not, and were never intended to be, covered by Section 230 immunity.

Over time, the avenues for engaging in both online commerce and speech have concentrated in the hands of a few key players.

It makes little sense to enable large online platforms (particularly dominant ones) to invoke Section 230 immunity in antitrust cases, where liability is based on harm to competition, not on third-party speech.

The action follows President Trump’s executive order seeking to weaken broad immunity enjoyed by Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR) and Google (GOOGL).

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