DOJ Announces Proposed Changes To Law That Would Limit Social Media Companies’ Ability To Censor Content

( For months now, President Donald Trump has been threatening to take action against social media platforms over their censorship policies that he feels have been prejudice against conservatives.

On Wednesday, he followed through with those threats.

The Department of Justice released a description of proposed changes to legislation that, if Congress passes it, would “strongly regulate” social media platforms and make it harder for them to remove content.

Internet companies are currently afforded broad protections through Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. It prevents them from being sued for content that is posted to their sites as long as they try “in good faith” to restrict posts that are excessively violent, filthy, lewd, obscene, lascivious or “otherwise objectionable.”

The Trump administration has argued that the “otherwise objectionable” clause is too broad, which leads to social media companies limiting free speech. Under the DOJ’s plan, they would remove broad discretion about the objectionable content, requiring sites to moderate content only that is believed to promote terrorism or violence, or that is illegal.

In addition, the DOJ would require social media companies to explicitly state in terms of service what can and can’t be posted to their sites.

That poses a potential problem for these social media sites, and has some people concerned about the implications to people viewing it. One of those people is the director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Emerging Technologies, Matthew Feeney, who said there’s plenty of speech that would be considered legal but that people don’t necessarily want to see on social media sites.

He said:

“There’s a reason why [Facebook CEO Mark] Zuckerberg doesn’t want videos of beheadings on his site. And there’s a reason why the vast majority of people on social media want an environment where a lot of legal but awful content is prohibited, like pornography or images of people being murdered. Those sorts of things.”

Others worry that by increasing the liability on social media platforms, the companies will become more cautious and, in turn, actually censor more content. That, of course, would be the opposite of what the Trump administration wants.

“I think this has the classic problem of content moderation on the net — the government wants you to take down all the bad content and none of the good content,” Mark Lumley, who is the director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science and Technology, told Buzzfeed News. “But that’s impossible, not only because content moderation is hard and the scale is so immense, but because reasonable people … can and do disagree on what is good and what is bad.”

Of course, the Trump administration doesn’t have the power to implement changes to legislation and would need the help of Congress to do that. While the president is likely to have some allies in Congress to introduce legislation, it’s unsure whether he could drum up enough bi-partisan support to get anything passed.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri has already introduced legislation that would limit Section 230 immunity for tech companies.