Washington: U.S. lawmakers bring forward proposals to curb social media giants by limiting their protection of free speech from legal liability.
Their efforts come after a former Facebook product manager presented a case that company systems amplify hatred and extremism online and fail to protect young users from harmful content.
This whistleblower, Frances Haugen, is expected to weigh in on lawmakers’ proposals during a House hearing on Wednesday. Her previous disclosures have spurred legislative and regulatory efforts around the world to crack down on Big Techs, and she recently made a series of appearances to European lawmakers and officials who make rules for social media companies.
Haugen, a data scientist who worked in Facebook’s civic integrity unit, backed up her claims with a huge amount of internal company documents that she secretly copied and provided to federal securities regulators and in Congress.
When she made her first public appearance this fall, laying a high-profile conviction for the social media giant before a Senate commerce subcommittee, she reflected on how Facebook’s platforms could be made more secure and prescriptions for congressional action. She rejected the idea of ââdismantling the tech giant as demanded by many lawmakers, favoring targeted legislative remedies instead.
Most notably, they include new restrictions on long-standing legal protections for speech posted on social media platforms. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have called for removing some of the protection afforded by a provision in a 25-year-old law – commonly known as Section 230 – that shields internet companies from liability for what users post .
Facebook and other social media companies use computer algorithms to rank and recommend content. They govern what appears on user newsfeeds. Haugen’s idea is to remove protection in cases where dominant, algorithm-driven content promotes massive user engagement rather than public safety.
That’s the idea behind the Malicious Algorithm Justice Act, which was brought forward by House Democrats about a week after Haugen testified before the Senate panel in October. The bill would hold social media companies accountable by removing their section 230 protection for personalized recommendations to users that are known to cause harm. A platform would lose immunity in cases where it “knowingly or recklessly” promotes harmful content.
A subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday on the bill and other bills aimed at tackling abuse on social media platforms. Senior Democrats on the committee, including the chairman, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, introduced the bill targeting the algorithms.
âThe committee saw growing evidence that when social media companies are faced with the choice of making more money or protecting public health and safety, they will continue to choose the money,â Pallone said recently. .
“The lack of transparency within these companies has serious repercussions for all Americans. The days of self-regulation are over. Congress must now meet in a bipartisan fashion to consider in a thoughtful manner the proposals that carry real accountability. ”
Some experts who support tighter social media regulation say the legislation could have unintended consequences. They suggest that it does not spell out enough what specific algorithmic behaviors would result in the loss of liability protection, making it difficult to see how it would work in practice and leading to wide disagreement on what it could actually do.
Meta Platforms, the new name for Facebook’s parent company, declined to comment on specific legislative proposals. The company says it has long advocated for regulatory updates.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has suggested changes that would only give internet platforms legal protection if they can prove that their systems for identifying illegal content are up to par. This requirement, however, could be more difficult for small tech companies and start-ups to meet, leading critics to argue that it will ultimately favor Facebook.
Other social media companies have urged caution in any legislative change to Section 230.