Republican senators propose reform to key U.S. tech liability shield

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three Republican U.S. senators on Tuesday introduced the latest legislation targeting a federal law that largely exempts tech platforms such as Facebook and Twitter from legal liability for the material their users post.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) speaks during an oversight hearing held by the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in Washington, U.S. June 24, 2020. Alex Wong/Pool via REUTERS

The bill from Senator Roger Wicker, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce; Senator Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senator Marsha Blackburn, who sits on both committees, is titled the ‘Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act.’

There are mounting calls to reform Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Lawmakers have complained about Big Tech’s content moderation decisions and the legal immunity the companies enjoy has come under severe scrutiny.

“For too long, social media platforms have hidden behind Section 230 protections to censor content that deviates from their beliefs,” Wicker said in a statement.

Graham aired similar concerns, saying social media companies routinely censor content considered valid political speech.

In a tweet early on Tuesday, President Donald Trump urged Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to repeal the legal shield.

“Why does Twitter leave phony pictures like this up, but take down Republican/Conservative pictures and statements that are true? Mitch must fight back and repeal Section 230, immediately. Stop biased Big Tech before they stop you!,” Trump said, referring to an image that transposed McConnell’s face onto that of a Russian guard in Moscow’s Red Square.

In May, Trump signed an executive order that seeks new regulatory oversight of tech firms’ content moderation decisions and backed legislation to scrap or weaken Section 230.

Trump took that action after Twitter tagged the president’s unsubstantiated tweets about claims of fraud in mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact-check the posts.

There are several other pieces of legislation targeting Section 230 doing the rounds, including one from Democratic Senator Brian Schatz and No. 2 Senate Republican John Thune and another from Republican Senator Josh Hawley.

Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Paul Simao