White House hopeful Beto O’Rourke put forth plans on Friday to hold internet companies accountable for the proliferation of hate speech on their platforms. Mr. O’Rourke, a former congressman for Texas seeking the Democratic nomination, proposed reconsidering existing protections that prevent internet companies from being held legally responsible for content uploaded by their users.
He suggested changing Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act (CDA) so that firms like Twitter and Facebook can be sued for not removing “hateful” content.
“Beto would need massive web platforms to adopt terms of service to ban hateful activities, defined as those that incite or engage in violence, intimidation, harassment, threats or defamation targeting
an individual or cluster based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability,” reads a proposed policy summary published on Mr. O’Rourke’s campaign website. Companies would be needed to implement systems designed to “identify and act” on hateful user content instead of risk being taken to court, according to the proposal.
“Beto supports amending Section 230 of the CDA to remove legal immunity from lawsuits for large social media platforms that fail to change their terms of service and put in place systems as described above,” reads the proposal. “Informational service providers of all sizes, including domain name servers and social media platforms, also would be held liable where they are found to knowingly promote content that incites violence.”
Enacted in 1996, Section 230 of the CDA broadly limits website publishers from being held legally responsible for content posted to their sites by third-parties with some exceptions, such as instances involving intellectual property and federal criminal law.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a leading digital rights group, has previously called the statute “one of the most valuable tools for protecting freedom of expression and innovation on the Internet.”
Calls to quench the spread of online hate speech have emerged recently in tandem with queries involving the role the web could have had in radicalizing recent mass-shooters.