Lawmakers want to hold social media accountable for ‘malicious algorithms’

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The Technology Policy Act that so many now love to hate picked up another rewrite proposal on Thursday when four leaders of the House Energy & Commerce Committee announced a bill to hold social platforms accountable for personalized, algorithmic content recommendations that inflict “serious physical or emotional harm.”

The Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act – presented by Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (DN.J.), Mike Doyle (D-Penn.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) .) — comes a week after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee that the social network’s algorithms promote angry content to keep people engaged on the platform.

A five-page draft says the bill would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a provision of the 1996 law that generally states that social forums are not responsible for what their users post — their users are. This would waive that civil immunity for platforms that make “a personalized recommendation” of content that “then materially contributed to serious physical or emotional harm to any person.”

The bill would not cover content posted in response to internet user searches and would also exempt online services with fewer than 5 million unique users per month as well as underlying infrastructure providers, such as web hosts. and domain registrars.

Supporting statements the committee published with the text of the bill quotes like this from Joan Donovanresearch director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy: “Disinformation, hate speech and hate-inciting content are reaching massive scale because recommendation algorithms propel this content further and faster to as more and more people interact with it.”

But as many other suggestions Introduced to revise “CDA 230,” this bill’s proposal to weed out abusive algorithms risks defeating First Amendment scrutiny. In an October 9 editorial in The Washington Post, Jeff Kosseff (Associate Professor of Cybersecurity Law at the US Naval Academy) and Daphne Keller (director of the Platform Regulation Program at Stanford University’s Cyber ​​Policy Center) wrote that courts tend to frown on attempts to curtail publishers’ constitutional rights to choose what to publish.

“Although the First Amendment allows liability for certain falsehoods — such as defamation, fraud, and false advertising — lawmakers cannot simply ban all misleading speech,” they wrote. “The Supreme Court has made it clear that laws restricting the broadcast of unpopular speech raise the same First Amendment issues as laws outright banning such speech.”

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In a statement emailed to reporters on Thursday, fight for the future— a tech policy group not known for its love of giant tech companies — warned of the potential consequences of the bill.

“In real life, this bill would work more like a repeal of 230 than a reform, because it opens the floodgates to frivolous lawsuits claiming that algorithmically amplified user content caused harm,” Director Evan wrote. Rig. She added: “Facebook itself has called for 230 changes because they know they will be in a good position to overcome them (they can afford lots of lawyers) whereas smaller platforms won’t.”

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