The Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms Act (SAFE TECH Act), would hold tech platforms “accountable” for damaging content.
It was introduced by Sens. Mark Warner, a former tech entrepreneur from Virginia, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
They argued that the internet has changed dramatically since the law came into effect in 1996. Web-based companies, for instance, were small fledgling organizations at the time, and now they’re among the biggest and most powerful in the world.
They also singled out the dating app Grindr, which they said invoked Section 230 protections to “do nothing” about users of its service who were actively engaged in “cyber-stalking and harassment” and “threatened lives.”
They also argued that online advertising “has become a focal point for scam artists and fraudsters,” and that Big Tech has done little to combat the issue.
“The SAFE TECH Act would force online service providers to finally address these problems or face potential civil liability,” the senators wrote.
The proposed law would end Section 230 protections for ads or paid content, allow victims to seek court orders that would force Big Tech to crack down on misuse, and allow platforms to be sued in a number of situations where they are currently immune.
“Section 230 has provided a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card to the largest platform companies even as their sites are used by scam artists, harassers, and violent extremists to cause damage and injury,” Warner said in a statement.
However, the bill stops short of repealing Section 230 altogether, as some critics have called for, including both former President Donald Trump and President Biden. Each said on the 2020 campaign trail they supported its elimination.
“How [Big Tech companies] operate has a real-life effect on the safety and civil rights of Americans and people around the world, as well as our democracy,” Klobuchar said. “Holding these platforms accountable for ads and content that can lead to real-world harm is critical, and this legislation will do just that.”
Section 230, which grants internet companies liability shielding not available to other forms of media, has been a target for both parties in recent months.
It says internet and social media companies cannot be considered “the publisher or speaker” responsible for third-party content posted to their platforms.
It protects Facebook and Twitter from lawsuits if they allow controversial speech from their users, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. It does not protect users from being accountable for their own posts.