New law would strip social media platforms of protections for misinformation

Amy Klobuchar

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks with reporters as the Senate prepares for a key test vote on the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that would overhaul the election system and voting rights, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 22, 2021. The bill is a top priority for Democrats seeking to ensure access to the polls and mail in ballots, but it is opposed by Republicans as a federal overreach. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WTVO) — New federal legislation, introduced Thursday, would remove liability protections for companies like Facebook and Twitter if their platforms spread misinformation about public health emergencies.

The bill, introduced by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D), creates an exception to the internet law Section 230 that shields platforms from lawsuits for content generated by their users, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It comes a week after President Joe Biden said social media companies are “killing people” by hosting misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines on their platforms.

Speaking at the White House, Biden insisted he meant “precisely what I said” when he said Friday of the tech giants that “they’re killing people.” But he said the point of his rhetoric was to ramp up pressure on the companies to take action.

“My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally that somehow I’m saying ‘Facebook is killing people,’ that they would do something about the misinformation,” Biden said.

The administration has increasingly seized on false or misleading information about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines as a driver of that hesitance. It has referenced a study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit that studies extremism, that linked a dozen accounts to spreading the majority of vaccine disinformation on Facebook.

While companies like Facebook defend their practices and say they’re helping people around the world access verified information about the COVID-19 vaccines, the White House says they haven’t done enough to stop misinformation that has helped slow the pace of new vaccinations in the U.S. to a trickle.

It comes as the U.S. sees a rise in virus cases and deaths among those who haven’t gotten a shot, in what officials call an emerging “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Last week, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared misinformation about the vaccines a deadly threat to public health.

“Misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health,” Murthy said during remarks Thursday at the White House. “We must confront misinformation as a nation. Lives are depending on it.”

Murthy said technology companies and social media platforms must make meaningful changes to their products and software to reduce the spread of false information while increasing access to authoritative, fact-based sources.

Too often, he said, the platforms are built in ways that encourage the spread of misinformation.

“We are asking them to step up,” Murthy said. “We can’t wait longer for them to take aggressive action.”

Klobuchar’s bill is written to apply only to events which are formally declared public health emergencies by the Health and Human Services secretary.

But what constitutes a public health emergency? States have called everything from gun violence to racism a public health issue.

She said she decided to try to create the new law because efforts to persuade tech companies don’t seem to be working.

“Earlier this year, I called on Facebook and Twitter to remove accounts that are responsible for producing the majority of misinformation about the coronavirus, but we need a long-term solution,” she said. “This legislation will hold online platforms accountable for the spread of health-related misinformation.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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