House Republicans Introduce ‘Protect Speech Act’ to Hold Big Tech Accountable

The US Capitol BuildingDozens of Republican Members of the House Committee on the Judiciary have introduced a new bill to hold Big Tech companies accountable, fix Section 230 of the Communications Act, and protect free speech on the internet.

The Protect Speech Act, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), seeks to amend Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 “to ensure that the immunity under such section incentivizes online platforms to responsibly address illegal content while not immunizing the disparate treatment of ideological viewpoints and continuing to encourage a vibrant, open, and competitive internet, and for other purposes.”

The Protect Speech Act is the latest effort in Congress to address the issue of censorship on social media platforms since NRB last year urged for a “careful” congressional review of the “Good Samaritan” protections in Section 230. Other proposed legislation includes the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, the Limiting Section 230 Immunity to Good Samaritans Act, the Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act, and the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act.

Presently, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects internet companies from liability for what users post on their platforms and also includes a section facilitating their “Good Samaritan” blocking of offensive content by defending them from lawsuits based on content their moderation efforts may have missed.

This extra layer of protection, however, has given Big Tech the ability to censor, block, and impede otherwise lawful and non-injurious citizen viewpoints on the web.

Over the past decade NRB has been monitoring, documenting, and advocating against threats of anti-Christian censorship and other free speech violations on the internet. It has also made repeated requests to Big Tech leaders to craft for their companies a free speech charter that applies the wisdom of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, noting that those freedoms have been “refined by centuries of jurisprudence” and would still permit the platforms to “combat obscenity, incitements to violence, and the like, without unduly burdening free expression with an array of confusing and haphazardly applied speech codes.”

However, with growing evidence of censorship of Christian and conservative viewpoints on social media platforms – and after Big Tech leaders failed to take concrete steps for free speech – NRB last year suggested that it was time for Congress to explore further what may be the costs and benefits of removing or conditionally suspending Section 230’s extra layer of government-granted content moderation protection for ubiquitous platforms suspected of acting in bad faith.

“While NRB is against heavy-handed government interventions, we feel a review of Section 230 is in order given the inaction of Big Tech leaders,” said NRB CEO Troy Miller.

“We recognize that Big Tech companies are not bound by the structures of the First Amendment to honor the free speech interests of citizen users, but it is ultimately in the best interest of everyone to find a solution to the problem of online censorship,” he added. “We are encouraged that Congress is taking action to find solutions, though Big Tech ideally should be the ones to resolve the problem.”

Among the requirements that the Protect Speech Act lays out for Big Tech to be considered acting in good faith are:

  1. Making publicly available terms of service/use that state plainly the criteria they employ in content-moderation practices of their service.
  2. Being consistent with those terms (and with any official representations or disclosures regarding their content-moderation practices) when restricting access to or availability of material.
  3. Not restricting access to or availability of material on deceptive grounds or apply terms of service/use to restrict access to or availability of material that is similar to material that their service intentionally declines to restrict.

To read the Protect Speech Act in its entirety, click here.

By NRB Staff

Published: October 5, 2020

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