Home Mark Warner Senators Warner, Kaine, Others Reintroduce “SAFE TECH” Legislation to “allow social media...

Senators Warner, Kaine, Others Reintroduce “SAFE TECH” Legislation to “allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, online harassment, and discrimination on social media platforms”

"The hate that festers online...leads to real violence, real lives targeted, real people put at risk."

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Good stuff from Sen. Mark Warner’s office:

LEGISLATION TO REFORM SECTION 230 REINTRODUCED IN THE SENATE, HOUSE

~ Would force online service providers to address misuse of their platforms or face potential civil liability ~  

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), along with U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor (D-FL-14) and Mike Levin (D-CA-49), reintroduced the Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act to reform Section 230 and allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, online harassment, and discrimination on social media platforms. 

“For too long, Section 230 has given cover to social media companies as they turn a blind eye to the harmful scams, harassment, and violent extremism that run rampant across their platforms,” said Sen. Warner, a former technology entrepreneur and the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “When Section 230 was enacted over 25 years ago, the internet we use today was not even fathomable. This legislation takes strides to update a law that was meant to encourage service providers to develop tools and policies to support effective moderation and allows them to finally be held accountable for the harmful, often criminal behavior that exists on their platforms.”  

“Social media platforms allow people to connect all across the world—but they also cause great pain and suffering, being used as a tool for cyberbullying, stalking, spreading hate, and more. The way we communicate as a society has changed drastically over the last 25 years, it’s time for our laws to catch up,” said Sen. Hirono, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The SAFE TECH Act targets the worst abuses perpetrated on internet platforms to better protect our children and our communities from the very real harms of social media.”   

“We need to be asking more from big tech companies, not less. How they operate has a real-life effect on the safety and civil rights of Americans and people around the world, as well as our democracy. Our legislation will hold these platforms accountable for ads and content that can lead to real-world harm,” said Sen. Klobuchar. 

“Congress has acted in the past to ensure that social media companies don’t get blanket immunity after hosting information on their websites aimed at facilitating human or sex trafficking,” said Sen. Kaine. “I’m fully supportive of using that precedent as a roadmap to require social media companies to moderate dangerous content linked to other crimes—like cyber-stalking, discrimination, and harassment—in a responsible way. This is critical to keep our communities safe.” 

“Section 230’s blanket immunity has prioritized Big Tech over Americans’ civil rights and safety. Platforms’ refusal to be held accountable for the dangerous and harmful content they host has real-life implications for users – leaving many vulnerable to threats like stalking, intimidation, and harassment, as well as discrimination,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “Our legislation is needed to safeguard consumers and ensure social media giants aren’t shielded from the legal consequences of failing to act. These common sense protections are essential in today’s online world.” 

“For too long, big tech companies have treated the internet like the wild west while users on their platforms violate civil and human rights, defraud consumers and harass others. These companies have shown over and over again that they are unwilling to make their platforms safe for Americans. It is long past time for consumers to have legal recourse when big tech companies harm them or their families. Our bill will ensure they are held accountable,” said Rep. Castor. 

“Social media companies continue to allow malicious users to go unchecked, harm other users, and violate laws. This cannot go on and it is clear federal reform is necessary,” said Rep. Levin. “Our bicameral legislation makes much needed updates to Section 230 to ensure Americans can safely use online platforms and have legal recourse when they are harmed. It’s long past time that these legislative fixes are made and I look forward to this bill moving through the Congress.” 

Specifically the SAFE TECH Act would force online service providers to address misuse on their platforms or face civil liability. The legislation would make clear that Section 230: 

·         Doesn’t apply to ads or other paid content – ensuring that platforms cannot continue to profit as their services are used to target vulnerable consumers with ads enabling frauds and scams;

·         Doesn’t bar injunctive relief – allowing victims to seek court orders where misuse of a provider’s services is likely to cause irreparable harm;

·         Doesn’t impair enforcement of civil rights laws – maintaining the vital and hard-fought protections from discrimination even when activities or services are mediated by internet platforms;

·         Doesn’t interfere with laws that address stalking/cyber-stalking or harassment and intimidation on the basis of protected classes – ensuring that victims of abuse and targeted harassment can hold platforms accountable when they directly enable harmful activity;

·         Doesn’t bar wrongful death actions – allowing the family of a decedent to bring suit against platforms where they may have directly contributed to a loss of life;

·         Doesn’t bar suits under the Alien Tort Claims Act – potentially allowing victims of platform-enabled human rights violations abroad to seek redress in U.S. courts against U.S.-based platforms. 

Sen. Warner first introduced the SAFE TECH Act in 2021 and is one of Congress’ leading voices in demanding accountability and user protections from social media companies. Last week, Sen. Warner pressed Meta on Facebook’s role in inciting violence around the world. In addition to the SAFE TECH Act, Sen. Warner has introduced and written numerous bills aimed at improving transparency, privacy, and accountability on social media. These include the Deceptive Experiences to Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act  – legislation to prohibit large online platforms from using deceptive user interfaces, known as “dark patterns,” to trick consumers into handing over their personal data and the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act, legislation that would encourage market-based competition to dominant social media platforms by requiring the largest companies to make user data portable – and their services interoperable – with other platforms, and to allow users to designate a trusted third-party service to manage their privacy and account settings. 

“The onslaught of misinformation and discriminatory attacks across social media platforms continues unabated. It is essential that the tech companies that run these platforms protect their users and end the rampant civil rights violations of Black users and other users of color. Social media remains a virtually unchecked home for hateful content discrimination, especially through the manipulation of algorithms that lead to both the targeting and limiting of which users see certain types of advertisements and opportunities. Congress can take a step in the right direction by strengthening Section 230 and ensuring that online communities are not safe harbors for discrimination and civil rights violations. LDF supports Senator Warner and Senator Hirono’s bill to address these critical concerns,” said Lisa Cylar Barrett, Director of Policy, Legal Defense Fund (LDF)

“There needs to be real clarity on Section 230. The hate that festers online: antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, misogyny and disinformation – leads to real violence, real lives targeted, real people put at risk. ADL supports the ability for people affected by violence to hold perpetrators accountable – and that includes social media companies. ADL appreciates the efforts of Senators Warner, Hirono, Klobuchar, and Kaine to tackle this complex challenge. We look forward to working with them to refine this legislation to ensure a safer and less hate-filled internet for all users.” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of ADL (Anti-Defamation League).

“Platforms should not profit from targeting employment ads toward White users, or from targeting voter suppression ads toward Black users. The SAFE TECH Act makes it clear that Section 230 does not give platforms a free pass to violate civil rights laws, while also preserving the power of platforms to remove harmful disinformation,” said Spencer Overton, President, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

“I applaud the SAFE TECH Act introduced by Sens. Warner and Hirono which provides useful modifications to section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act to limit the potential negative impacts of commercial advertising interests while continuing to protect anti-harassment and civil and human rights interests of those who may be wrongfully harmed through wrongful online activity,” Ramesh Srinivasan, Professor at the UCLA Department of Information Studies and Director of UC Digital Cultures Lab, said. 

“It is glaringly apparent that we cannot rely on the tech companies to implement common sense policies that reflect common decency on their own. We thank and commend Senators Warner, Hirona, Klobuchar, and Kaine for their foresight and for showing their commitment to the safety of our citizens by putting forth the SAFE TECH Act. The SAFE TECH Act will continue to protect free speech and further protect our civil rights while sensibly amending section 230, an outdated law that the tech companies hide behind in their refusal to take responsibility for real-life consequences” said Wendy Via, Cofounder, Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. 

“The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative welcomes this effort to protect civil rights in the digital age and to hold online intermediaries accountable for their role in the silencing and exploitation of vulnerable communities. This bill addresses the urgent need to limit and correct the overzealous interpretation of Section 230 that has granted a multibillion dollar industry immunity and impunity for profiting from irreparable injury,” said Mary Anne Franks, President, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and Danielle K. Citron, Vice President, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. 

“Social media companies have enabled hate, threats and even genocide against Muslims with virtual impunity. The SAFE TECH Act would bring needed and long-overdue accountability to these companies,” said Muslim Advocates Senior Policy Counsel Sumayyah Waheed. “We thank Sens. Warner, Hirono, Klobuchar, Kaine and Blumenthal for leading on this important bill. Every day, Muslims are profiled, discriminated against, attacked and worse just for engaging in public life. Passing this bill would bring us one step closer to ensuring that Muslims and other marginalized communities can hold social media companies accountable for the reckless way they violate people’s rights and threaten their safety on and offline.” 

“The SAFE TECH Act is an important step forward for platform accountability and for the protection of privacy online. Providing an opportunity for victims of harassment, privacy invasions, and other violations to remove unlawful content is critical to stopping its spread and limiting harm,” said Caitriona Fitzgerald, Deputy Director, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). 

“The SAFE TECH Act is a Section 230 reform America needs now. Troubling readings of Section 230 have encouraged reckless and negligent shirking by platforms of basic duties toward their users. Few if any of the drafters of Section 230 could have imagined that it would be opportunistically used to, for example, allow dating sites to ignore campaigns of harassment and worse against their users. The SAFE TECH Act reins in the cyberlibertarian ethos of over-expansive interpretations of Section 230, permitting courts to carefully weigh and assess evidence in cases where impunity is now preemptively assumed,” said Frank Pasquale, Author of The Black Box Society and Professor at Brooklyn Law School. 

“It is unacceptable that courts have interpreted Section 230 to provide Big Tech platforms with blanket immunity from wrongdoing. Congress never intended Section 230 to shield companies from all civil and criminal liability. Reforms proposed by Sens. Warner and Hirono are an important step in the right direction. It is time to hold Big Tech accountable for the harms they cause children and families and other vulnerable populations,” said James P. Steyer, Founder and CEO, Common Sense. 

“The SAFE TECH Act aims to hold social media giants accountable for spreading harmful misinformation and hateful language that affects Black communities and limits our voting power,” said Brandon Tucker, Sr. Director of Policy & Government Affairs at Color Of Change. “Social media companies have used Section 230 as a shield against legal repercussions for their continued civil rights violations across their platforms. When we released our Black Tech Agenda and Scorecard last year, we made sure that the SAFE TECH Act was a key criteria in marking legislators’ progress toward advancing tech policy solutions with a racial justice framework. We call on members of Congress to support this critical legislation to protect Black people’s rights and safety online.”

“It has become abundantly clear that disinformation and hate on social media can create real-world harms.  – whether it’s anti-vaxx misinformation, election-related lies or hate, it is now clear that there is a significant threat to human life, civil rights and national security. The problem is crazy incentives, where bad actors can freely spread hate and misinformation, platforms profit from traffic regardless of whether it is productive or damaging, but the costs are borne by the public and society at large. This timely bill forensically delineates the harms and ensures perpetrators and enablers pay a price for the harms they create. In doing so, it reflects our desire for better communication technologies, which enhance our right to speak and be heard, and that also respect our fundamental rights to life and safety,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO, Center for Countering Digital Hate. 

“Senator Mark Warner is a leader in ensuring that technology supports democracy even as it advances innovation. This legislation removes obstacles to enforcement against online discrimination, cyber-stalking, and targeted harassment and incentivizes platforms to move past the current, ineffective whack-a-mole approach to harms,” said Karen Kornbluh, Former US Ambassador to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Full text of legislation is available here

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