A bill would strip social networking sites of legal protections from being sued for misinformation on health issues, primarily targeting those related to vaccines, according to Children’s Health Defense.
Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced a bill to take aim at Section 230, which would create an exception to the law that protects platforms from being held liable for the content users post and how they moderate it.
The bill, if passed, would make it possible to sue social media platforms for ‘harmful’ content.
Section 230, passed as part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which grants legal immunity to internet giants such as Facebook and Twitter for content posted on their platforms, is being hotly contested by both the left and conservatives, but for different reasons.
Democrats allege that Section 230 is being used to “spread anti-vaccine misinformation”, while Republicans argue that it is promoting censorship of conservative views.
In a statement, Democratic Senator Klobuchar said: “For far too long, online platforms have not done enough to protect the health of Americans. These are some of the biggest, richest companies in the world and they must do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation.”
In turn, both President Biden and former President Donald Trump have pushed for reform of Section 230, but with two different starting points.
While Biden accused Facebook of allowing “outrageous information” about the vaccine, the legal shield was strongly criticized by Trump during his time in office, both for the censorship suffered by Republicans on the networks and for what he pointed to as an issue of national security vulnerability.
Regarding this, Trump said that Section 230 puts the country’s intelligence operations at risk, as it is virtually impossible to conduct without knowing what is being done at every step. “Section 230 facilitates the spread of foreign disinformation online, which is a serious threat to our national security and election integrity. It must be repealed,” Trump added.
On the basis of defining what constitutes health misinformation, the legislation leaves it up to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Commenting on this, Renée DiResta, a member of the Stanford Internet Observatory said, “Defining which health claims are legitimate and which are not also raises thorny questions,” as reported by Shannon Bond, NPR’s technology correspondent.
“There are times when the consensus just isn’t fully formed yet,” DiResta said, citing as an example the unclear positions during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak when there were debates about how the virus was transmitted.
He added: “Asking or expecting the platforms to take action on certain types of health misinformation may be reasonable, but this sort of dynamic that we’ve all watched unfold over the last year and a half makes clear how this approach has some potentially problematic pitfalls.”
Meanwhile, Children’s Health Defense President Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who has come under fire from big tech censors for his stance questioning experimental vaccines and their health consequences, said that while “the pharmaceutical industry and its Big Tech allies have used Section 230” to attack and defame him, he still considers it a “practical platform for free speech.”
Kennedy Jr. believes that the best solution would be to “abolish anonymity on those platforms,” so that each user is held responsible for their posts and held accountable if necessary. He noted that this would limit the ability of individuals to post lies and libel, which has been “one of the major reasons the internet has become such a negative force against civil discourse.”