UPDATED 23:10 EDT / JULY 22 2021

POLICY

New bill aims to remove legal protections social media companies have for health misinformation

Two Democrat senators introduced a bill today that would take away the immunity social media companies such as Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. have under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act when health misinformation is posted on their platforms.

The Health Misinformation Act, introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar and Ben Ray Luján, is designed foremost to tackle the spread of COVID-19 misinformation appearing on social media platforms by making companies legally responsible for the content posted by users.

As it stands, the bill is supposed to concentrate only on “health misinformation,” but since that is a vague term, it’s not clear what might happen in the future if it’s passed. It will be the Department of Health and Human Service’s Secretary’s job to assess what is misinformation and what could be construed as bad for the public’s health.

“For far too long, online platforms have not done enough to protect the health of Americans,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “These are some of the biggest, richest companies in the world and they must do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how lethal misinformation can be and it is our responsibility to take action.”

In a statement, Facebook said it embraces reform of section 230, but said clarification is needed “on the difficult and urgent questions about health-related misinformation.” Facebook has argued in the past that Section 230 allows for free expression, a sentiment that was echoed when the company was grilled in front of Congress along with Google LLC and Twitter.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube did little while COVID-19 related misinformation spread on their platforms – fueling distrust in public health officials, promoting conspiracy theories, and putting lives at risk,” Luján said. “Online platforms must stop the spread of deadly misinformation, and I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Klobuchar to hold these companies accountable.”

 Photo: Fusion Medical Association/Unsplash

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