Facebook, Google Lawsuit Shield Targeted in GOP Senator’s Bill

(Bloomberg) -- Republican Senator Josh Hawley is drafting legislation to weaken a liability shield that protects technology companies including Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, two people familiar with the matter said, after President Donald Trump called for curbing what he alleges is censorship of conservative views.

The legal immunity, under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, has come under fire from both political parties. Trump recently signed an order aiming to limit protections for social media sites engaged in content moderation after he clashed with Twitter Inc.

Facebook, Google Lawsuit Shield Targeted in GOP Senator’s Bill

Hawley, a frequent critic of big tech, has said he agrees with Trump that the platforms systematically silence conservatives. The Missouri senator has previously introduced legislation seeking to deprive companies of the liability shield if they can’t prove to federal authorities that their moderation practices are politically neutral.

Axios reported the move earlier. Hawley’s office declined to comment. It’s public knowledge that the executive order that Trump signed directed the administration to develop model legislation to reform Section 230, White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office is not involved in the drafting, one person familiar with the matter said. McConnell’s office declined to comment.

The bill, which could come as soon as next week and broaden the measure Hawley already offered, would increase companies’ liability if they enforced their terms of service unevenly, said one of the people, who asked not to be named discussing the deliberations. That could include situations where rules are applied differently for conservatives.

Separately, Joe Biden lashed out at Facebook on Thursday, saying the social media company had failed to stop the spread of disinformation.

The Democratic nominee wants Facebook to prioritize trustworthy sources of information ahead of unverified posts, quickly remove viral misinformation, prevent political candidates from spreading inaccurate information and universally enforce rules about voter suppression, specifically calling out Trump.

Hawley’s office has had multiple conversations with the White House and the Justice Department on drafting the bill to revamp Section 230, the person said. Under Trump’s social media order, the Justice Department is also charged with coming up with model legislation.

Democrats, many legal scholars and even some Republicans have slammed Trump’s order as an attempt to punish companies for their views in violation of the First Amendment. Nevertheless, many Democratic lawmakers have sought to make their own changes to Section 230, citing concerns about racist content, incitements to violence, hate speech, and election and health misinformation.

On Wednesday, Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky suggested removing the legal protection for commercial speech, potentially attacking the ad-driven business models of Facebook and Google, as well as an array of tech companies involved in e-commerce. She has previously floated tweaking the shield to force companies to remove election misinformation and to make them enforce their terms of service.

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