This morning, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced new legislation, the “Health Misinformation Act”, which removes Section 230 liability protections specifically for health misinformation during an ongoing health emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s our statement in response, which can be attributed to Evan Greer, Director, Fight for the Future (she/her pronouns). You can also read a full Twitter thread here.
Vaccine misinformation is a real problem with lives at stake, and there are real concerns with how algorithms manipulate online content with a complete lack of transparency.
However, Sen. Klobuchar’s new bill, would task the Department of Health and Human Services to define what constitutes “medical misinformation”, almost certainly violates the First Amendment, and would never hold up in court. Which is frustrating, because this is a real problem that requires real solutions. The bill falls into two interrelated traps: buying into the twin ideas that the Federal government dictating how platforms moderate content, and weakening Section 230, will make platforms moderate more responsibly.
All content on platforms like Facebook is by design, either amplified or suppressed. By conditioning 230 on not amplifying a certain category of content, platforms will suppress and over-censor large amounts of content, including legitimate content, in order to avoid liability. In this case, for example, platforms might actively suppress legitimate, emerging, and changing public health content from doctors or health professionals because the platforms can’t discern what does or doesn’t count as misinformation at any given time.
Conditioning 230 protections on “not amplifying” a category of speech rather than “not hosting” it not only attempts to avoid these human rights & free expression issues, but ultimately fails because it fails to understand the ways that surveillance capitalist platforms function 一 and backfire catastrophically.
Considering this is a real problem, we urge Congress to look at other options which will not have unintended consequences. To start, pass strong federal data privacy legislation, which would severely limit the ability of companies like Facebook to microtarget misinformation directly to the people most susceptible to it. Additionally, it should focus on robust antitrust enforcement and the restoration of net neutrality, to strike at the roots of monopoly power and surveillance capitalism. We’ve also called for an industry-wide moratorium on algorithmic amplification, especially within private groups which is where a lot of misinformation is spreading on Facebook.