Senators are targeting section 230 to combat misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines

As coronavirus cases increase in unvaccinated populations, Democratic senators will introduce a new bill on Thursday that would remove the § 230 liability protection for Facebook and other social media platforms if they add harmful public health misinformation.

Health Malpractice Actby Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) on Thursday, created a carveout in section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which would open social media platforms like Facebook to lawsuits to receive dangerous health information. The legislation calls on the Secretary of Health and Personnel to provide guidance on what should be classified as “medical abuse.”

Carveout would only apply in situations where false information online is related to an existing public health emergency, such as an ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as reported by the HHS Secretary. It would open up responsibility only if the content is algorithmically validated, not “through a neutral mechanism such as chronological functionality.”

“For too long, online platforms have not done enough to protect the health of Americans. These are the largest and richest companies in the world, and they need to do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine information,” Klobuchar said in a statement on Thursday. “The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how deadly misinformation can be, and it is our responsibility to act.”

It is not clear that the removal of the safeguards in section 230 would have an impact on legislators. Section 230 protects the platforms liability for illegal content platforms – but false information is not in itself illegal. As a result, it is unclear what a possible lawsuit against Facebook could look like even if the protections in section 230 were removed.

The legislation will be introduced only a week after the Biden administration issued a new report false information about vaccinations in social media. The report called on society as a whole to work to correct misinformation about the coronavirus, including new policy recommendations for companies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The report does not mention paragraph 230, but suggested that platforms redesign their algorithms to avoid the proliferation of misinformation and to build more “friction” into sharing functions to encourage users to avoid sharing false information.

Shortly after the report was released, White House officials and President Joe Biden specifically called Facebook its role in increasing abuse of vaccines. Last Friday, Biden told reporters that the platforms such as “Facebook,” “killed people” by initializing false vaccine information. A Facebook spokesman responded, saying, “The facts show that Facebook is helping to save lives. Season.”

On Monday, Biden walked back that statement said the misinformation “killed people”, not Facebook itself. Still, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told MSNBC Tuesday that the administration reviewed section 230 to determine the means to combat COVID-19 misinformation.

“Certainly they should be responsible,” Bedingfield said of social media companies on Tuesday. “It’s a big and complex ecosystem, and everyone has a responsibility to make sure we don’t provide people with bad information about the life-saving vaccine.”

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