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House Democrats on Wednesday called for legislation that would allow users to sue social media sites for causing "emotional injury."
The House Energy and Commerce Committee discussed several bills that would amend Section 230, the legislation that protects tech platforms from being legally liable for users' posts. The "Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act" would allow users to sue platforms for causing "severe emotional injury," but does not specify a definition of emotional injury. Free speech advocates worry the law’s vagueness would force platforms to delete more user speech to avoid being sued.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) called the act "a thinly veiled attempt to pressure companies to censor more speech." She said if "companies will have to decide between leaving up content that may offend someone and fight it in court, or censor content that reaches a user—which do you think they’ll choose?"
Democrats and Republicans have both pushed for reforming Section 230, although for different reasons. Republicans say tech platforms should lose their immunity if they shut down conservative speech. But Democrats want to increase platforms' liability to push them to remove "misinformation." Wednesday's hearing highlighted the substantial differences between the parties. Twitter and Facebook have regularly shut down conservative speech including criticism of President Joe Biden and removed discussion of the lab leak theory of COVID-19’s origins.
Democratic witness Rashad Robinson, president of a George Soros-backed advocacy group, called for more restrictions on free speech to combat "misinformation." Robinson’s group, Color of Change, has pushed for defunding the police. Robinson also serves on the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder, which called for a "national response strategy" to stop "misinformation" online. In the hearing, Robinson called for Congress to place legislative limits on the First Amendment, saying "I understand that we have these conversations about the First Amendment, but there are limitations to what you can and cannot say."
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