IS ANTI-ALGORITHM LEGISLATION ON THE WAY?
Representatives Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) and Anna Eshoo (D-Cal.) have introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives called the “Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act” (PADAA). Here’s an excellent piece in Techdirt that discusses it in some helpful detail. The bill would strip protections provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to social media platforms that use an “algorithm, model, or computational process to rank, order, promote, recommend, [or] amplify” user provided content.
What that means is that a platform could be treated as the publisher of the content, notwithstanding Section 230’s provision that platforms are not deemed the publisher of third party content. This could effectively act as legislative repeal of court decisions that have found platforms like Facebook are not liable for act of terror that were allegedly facilitated by interactions on social media.
In Force v. Facebook victims of a Hamas terror attack sued Facebook for allegedly providing material support to Hamas by connecting Hamas sympathizers to one another based on their shared interests employing Facebook’s algorithmic “Suggested Friends” feature. The United States Court of Appeals of the 2d Circuit found that Section 230 protected Facebook from liability.
As the Techdirt piece points out, the bill is fuzzy enough that compliance could be difficult. As it notes, “[i]f social media platforms are exposed to liability for harms stemming from activity potentially inspired by speech in these prominent spaces, they will cleanse them of potentially extreme, though First Amendment protected, speech. This amounts to legislative censorship by fiat.”
It’s not the biggest issue on a political agenda dominated by Covid and its impact. But Section 230, which has served a vital purpose for almost 25 years now, is increasingly coming under attack. The PADAA is just the latest salvo.