June 20, 2019
Yesterday, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced the “Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act,” a bill that purports to protect political speech but would actually create incentives for platforms to censor more speech overall. The bill would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act so that larger internet platforms can be held liable for moderating content on their platforms unless they obtain a certification from the Federal Trade Commission that they do not moderate content in a politically biased manner.
New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) has spoken out about the concerning trend of private companies such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter becoming gatekeepers of online speech, and has advocated for greater transparency and accountability around their content takedown practices. However, Section 230 provides important protections that enable platforms to provide space for many forms of free expression, including political speech of all viewpoints.
In addition, the concept of a “politically neutral” platform is a broad, undefined one that creates an artificial, unmeasurable standard for platforms to meet. Further, although the bill specifically targets platforms with over 30 million monthly users, 300 million global users, or $500 million in annual revenue, it does not adequately account for the undue burden such requirements would place on medium-sized platforms that also fall under this category. Finally, by compelling and regulating what platforms can and cannot remove from their websites, this bill threatens to further spread hate speech, misinformation, terror content, and other forms of objectionable content online in the name of maintaining so-called “political neutrality.”
The following statement can be attributed to Spandana Singh, policy program associate at New America’s Open Technology Institute:
“We strongly condemn this bill and urge Congress to protect and uphold the safeguards for free expression provided under the current law. Online platforms should be spaces where individuals can freely and safely share their views. Removing the liability protections provided by Section 230 under arbitrary standards such as these only serves to undermine free expression online.”