Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic-MN senator introduced today new legislation that will finally hold tech companies accountable for misinformation regarding vaccines.
This bill is called the Health Misinformation Act, and it was co-sponsored in part by Senator Ray Lujan (D-NM). It would allow for an exemption to Section 230 of the internet law, which protects tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter against lawsuits over nearly any content posted on these platforms.
Klobuchar’s bill will change this — but only when an algorithm on a social media platform promotes misinformation about a “existing public emergency.” This legislation also requires the Secretary for Health and Human Services to identify health misinformation within these situations.
Recode has seen a draft law that states “Features built into technology platforms have contributed the spread of misinformation, disinformation,” according to Recode. “With social media platforms incentivizing people to share content to gain likes, comments and other positive signals, which rewards engagement over accuracy, which rewards engagement instead of accuracy, this encourages engagement.”
In cases in which a platform displays posts by people using a neutral mechanism, such as a social media site that ranks posts chronologically rather than algorithmically, the law would not apply. It would represent a significant change in the internet platform landscape. Nearly all major social media platforms use algorithms to decide what content is displayed in users’ feeds. These algorithms rank content based on their emotional responses. They can also prioritize incorrect information.
This new bill is coming at a moment when social media platforms are being criticized for Covid-19 misinformation that spread on their platforms, despite all their attempts to correct or remove some of the most harmful and dangerous health information. As Covid-19 cases rose among Americans who were not vaccinated, President Biden claimed that Facebook was “killing people with vaccine misinformation” (a claim he partially refuted).
Despite this, some Republicans continue to criticize major social media platforms, including those that have reacted against the recent Surgeon General health advisory on fighting health misinformation. Conservatives and Sen. Josh Hawley (Republican from Missouri) have also criticised the White House for highlighting health issues on social media platforms. They called the cooperation “scary stuff”, and “censorship.”
Klobuchar’s proposal to eliminate Section 230, even partially, will be difficult despite the fact that tech companies are being criticized by bipartisans. It is not easy to identify and define public health misinformation. This could make it difficult for a government agency to decide the boundary. A court will also need to decide whether an algorithm on a platform was “neutral” or whether misinformation has been promoted. This is a difficult question with no simple answers.
It may be difficult to sue Facebook for health misinformation, even if Section 230 has been partially repealed.
Free speech activists warn that the repeal of Section 230 could restrict free speech online, even partially. This is because tech companies would be forced to tighten their control over what content users can post on the Internet.
The bill’s passage reflects Democrats’ political will to make tech companies more effective in combating misinformation via their platforms.
In a statement, Sen. Klobuchar stated that online platforms had not done enough for Americans’ health “for far too long.” These are the richest and most powerful companies on the planet, so they need to do more to stop the spread of dangerous vaccine misinformation.”
As Recode reported, Senator Klobuchar sent a joint letter to Sen. Lujan and the CEOs at Twitter and Facebook earlier this year asking them to take down any misinformation they have on their platforms. According to research done by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (a non-profit), 65 percent of all anti-vaccine posts on Facebook and Twitter were caused or contributed to by 12 anti-vaccine activists — known as the “Disinformation Dozen”.
Recode was able to see the responses from both platforms to those letters. They defended their approaches to influencers and noted that they had taken actions to improve their accounts. Many of these accounts remain active across both platforms. Although data is not available to show how much misinformation Facebook has contributed to vaccination hesitancy, many accounts are still up. Recode was told earlier this year by long-time advocates for vaccines that Facebook’s handling of vaccine content made it more difficult and that some individuals have become less supportive of vaccines.
This is not the first attempt by Congress to eliminate Section 230. The EARN IT Act was introduced by Congress last week. This would remove Section 230’s immunity to tech companies if they fail to adequately address child pornography through their platforms. The bill was supported by bipartisanship when it was introduced and is currently in Congress. Earlier in the year, Reps. Tom Malinowski and Anna Eshoo (D–NJ) reintroduced their proposed, Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act. This would eliminate Section 230 protections for platforms where algorithms amplified postings that involve international terrorism or interfere with civil rights.
Trump attempted to also repeal Section 230 by issuing an executive order that was legally invalid. This came just days after Twitter began fact-checking Trump’s misleading tweets about the 2020 election.
Although there may be some issues with their proposed legislation, Senators. Klobuchar’s and Lujan’s bills are a reminder of how lawmakers worried about misinformation think more about algorithms and ranking systems that help drive engagement with this type of content.
Imran Ahmed (CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate) told Recode that “the social media giants are aware this: The algorithm encourages people to consume more information.” Social media giants have encouraged the growth of this market, and they have also tolerated and fostered it. They have been the main source of misinformation.
Publited at Thu 22 July 2021, 18:02:46 +0000