DOJ seeks to scale back immunity for internet, social media companies

by Laura Mize · Jun 17th, 2020 12:21 pm

The U.S. Department of Justice will release a proposed legislative plan to curb legal protections that have existed for more than two decades and that shield internet platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, an official in the Trump administration has said.

The Communications Decency Act of 1996 holds that online venues are not liable for content posted by their users, except in very specific circumstances. It also provides the platforms leeway in monitoring site content according to their own discretion.

But the changes the Justice Department seeks would undo much of that protection for the tech giants, preventing platforms from taking down content without offering an explanation, as well as make them more responsible for third-party content.

If adopted, such a rollback would open internet platforms to civil liability for violations of federal criminal law that occur on their sites. Internet companies that facilitate or seek out user activity on their sites such as drug trafficking, child sexual abuse, child exploitation, terrorism, cyberstalking, and online scams would no longer be immune from civil actions arising from such activity. The companies also could be more vulnerable to antitrust claims.

The Justice Department is not the first party to consider decreased protections for internet companies. Some federal legislators are already promoting legislation meant to spur online platforms to be more active in opposing online sexual exploitation of children.

News of the Justice Department's planned action follows an executive order signed last month by President Donald Trump that also limited legal protections for internet platforms that unfairly censor users' speech.


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