Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced legislation on Wednesday aimed at cracking down on “Big Tech’s political censorship.” Hawley’s Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act “to encourage” major tech platforms “to provide content moderation that is politically neutral.”
“Under Hawley’s bill,” Fox News reported, “big tech firms would have to provide evidence to the FTC proving that their algorithms and content-removal practices are neutral. Tech titans would also be responsible for the costs of performing audits, and would also have to re-apply for immunity every two years.”
According to the legislation, which would apply only to major platforms, a company’s content moderating practices are politically biased if they are:
designed to negatively affect a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint; or disproportionately restricts or promotes access to, or the availability of, information from a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint; or an officer or employee of the provider makes a decision about moderating information provided by other information content providers that is motivated by an intent to negatively affect a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint.
“This legislation simply states that if the tech giants want to keep their government-granted immunity, they must bring transparency and accountability to their editorial processes and prove that they don’t discriminate,” Hawley said in a statement.
Law professor Josh Blackman broke down the bill in a helpful Twitter thread, noting its scope is limited to companies with more than 30 million active users in the United States, Hawley included a First Amendment carve-out, and that companies that don’t seek out certification would continue to exist, just without Section 230 immunity (which would open them up to lawsuits).
— Josh Blackman (@JoshMBlackman) June 19, 2019
Even so, Hawley’s legislation has already drawn some criticism from the right. In a statement, Americans for Prosperity Policy Analyst Billy Easley said, “Senator Hawley’s misguided legislation sets the table for stricter government control over free expression online. Eroding the crucial protections that exist under Section 230 creates a scenario where government has the ability to police your speech and determine what you can or cannot say online.”
Hawley has used his first months in the Senate to launch a crusade against Big Tech on several fronts— including privacy, censorship, and exploitative practices—making a conservative pitch for regulation of the industry.