Senators Propose Section 230 Exception to Hold Digital Media Platforms Responsible for Health Misinformation

According to a press release issued Thursday, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) have introduced a law that would hold social media platforms that foment the spread of online health-related misinformation accountable amidst public health crises. The bill, entitled the Health Misinformation Act, would establish an exception to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act’s liability shield for platforms that “promote” untrue or inaccurate health-related information related to an existing, federally declared public health emergency.

The press release explains that presently, digital platforms enjoy legal immunity from liability for user-posted content. It further states that Section 230, which was “intended to promote online speech and allow online services to grow,” now disincentivizes platforms from responding to misinformation on critical health issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, at the public’s expense.

According to her office’s press release, Sen. Klobuchar and others have spearheaded the fight against coronavirus and vaccine-related misinformation. In January, she sent a letter to the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, Google and YouTube asking them to combat the spread of misleading vaccine information. Again in April, Sens. Klobuchar and Luján wrote to Twitter and Facebook concerning a report issued by the Center for Countering Digital Hate. The report found that approximately 65 percent of anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter was attributable to 12 individuals who play leading roles in spreading digital disinformation about coronavirus vaccines, according to the news release.

In a statement, Sen. Klobuchar commented on the proposed law. “For far too long, online platforms have not done enough to protect the health of Americans. These are some of the biggest, richest companies in the world and they must do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation,” she said. “This legislation will hold online platforms accountable for the spread of health-related misinformation. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how lethal misinformation can be and it is our responsibility to take action.”

Relatedly, a censorship case brought by the Children’s Health Defense, a vaccine activist group, has been appealed after the court ruled in favor of Facebook. In June, the trial court held that the activist group could not pursue Facebook for actions it took to censor inaccurate COVID-19 vaccine information posted on the group’s page.