Democrats Propose Law To Make Tech Companies Liable For Content That Causes Physical Or ‘Severe Emotional’ Harm

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Ailan Evans Deputy Editor
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House Democrats announced a bill Thursday that would hold online platforms liable for content that harms users.

The Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act, proposed by Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and set to be introduced Friday, aims to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to strip liability protections from platforms that recommend “personalized” content contributing to “physical or severe emotional injury” of a user. This would allow users to sue platforms for recommending harmful content.

To lose liability protections, platforms must also have at least five million monthly visitors, and must either “recklessly” or knowingly recommend content that harms users. (RELATED: Josh Hawley Proposes Bill Holding Tech Companies Liable For Harm To Children)

The lawmakers said the bill would help suppress the spread of “disinformation” and “extremism,” citing Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony before Congress on the tech giant’s amplification of speech it recognized as harmful.

Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing entitled ‘Protecting Kids Online: Testimony from a Facebook Whistleblower’ on Capitol Hill on Capitol Hill, October 05, 2021 in Washington, DC.(Photo by Jabin Botsford-Pool/Getty Images)

“The time for self-regulation is over, and this bill holds them accountable,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a press release. “Designing personalized algorithms that promote extremism, disinformation, and harmful content is a conscious choice, and platforms should have to answer for it.”

The proposal echoes suggestions made by Haugen herself, who when testifying before Congress last Tuesday urged lawmakers to expand tech companies’ liability.

“I strongly encourage reforming Section 230 to exempt decisions about algorithms,” Haugen said. “They [Facebook] have a hundred percent control over their algorithms, and Facebook should not get a free pass on choices it makes to prioritize growth and virality and reactiveness over public safety.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Doyle, Jan Schakowsky, and Anna Eshoo.

“As Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has proven through testimony and documents, Facebook is knowingly amplifying harmful content and abusing the immunity of Section 230 well beyond congressional intent,” Eshoo said in the press release.

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