Section 230 Reform Bill, PACT, Draws Criticism from EFF

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has expressed disapproval for the PACT bill. The legislation is the Democrats attempt at reforming Section 230.

In the last several months, there have been attempts to change Section 230 laws. Many of those attempts have been made by Republican’s who mistakenly believe that social media platforms have an anti-conservative “bias”. Some Republican’s are trying to also slap restrictions on Section 230 protections so that web services must cripple their security. This has been seen through the EARN IT debate.

Of course, it may be easier to forget that Democrats have also issued their own attempts at reforming Section 230. Back in June, we reported on Democrat senators tabling the PACT legislation. It ultimately became a bi-partisan effort in the end. Supposedly, it’s supposed to be a scalpel approach rather than the Republican sledge hammer style. For those who think that because it’s a Democrat idea, it automatically doesn’t get any criticism. Well, as it turns out, that thinking is wrong.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is saying that they oppose the PACT legislation. They are saying that PACT is no solution to protect people from harmful online content. From the EFF:

As we recently wrote, the Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency (PACT) Act, introduced last month by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and John Thune (R-SD), is a serious effort to tackle a serious problem: that a handful of large online platforms dominate users’ ability to speak online. The bill builds on good ideas, such as requiring greater transparency around platforms’ decisions to moderate their users’ content—something EFF has championed as a voluntary effort as part of the Santa Clara Principles.

However, we are ultimately opposed to the bill, because weakening Section 230 (47 U.S.C. § 230) would lead to more illegitimate censorship of user content. The bill would also threaten small platforms and would-be competitors to the current dominant players, and the bill has First Amendment problems.

Additionally, some lawsuits against user content are harassing suits that might be dismissed under anti-SLAPP laws, but not all states have them and there isn’t one that consistently applies in federal court. Finally, some documents that appear to be final court judgments may be falsified, which would lead to the illegitimate censorship of user speech, if platforms don’t spend considerable resources investigating each takedown request.

Moreover, any legislative effort aimed at removing harmful, but not illegal, content online has to recognize that platforms that host user-generated content have their own First Amendment rights to manage that content. The PACT Act intrudes on these services’ editorial discretion by requiring that they take certain steps in response to complaints about content.

The EFF went on to say that they were happy with how a hearing went and how many issues they were concerned with did get addressed. This in spite of the fact that no consensus has been made.

The thing with all of this, though is one thought that others have raised before: why not just leave section 230 alone? Even after all we have seen up to this point, it’s difficult to really say that Section 230 is actually problematic in the first place. Can more be done to address unfair censorship? Absolutely. A great start would be to reform the DMCA to implement laws that actually punish those who falsely make claims. That would be a fantastic start. Another way of fighting unfair censorship is to implement federal anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) laws. That could go a long way in protecting free speech as well.

In the end, there are ways to better protect free speech online and fix some of the problems that the Internet faces today. We don’t see how attacking Section 230 is the way forward.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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