Schatz, Thune Introduce New Legislation To Update Section 230, Strengthen Rules, Transparency On Online Content Moderation, Hold Internet Companies Accountable For Moderation Practices

Bipartisan PACT Act Repeals Immunity From Civil Actions Brought By Federal Agencies, Empowers State AGs To Enforce Section 230, Protect Consumers

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and John Thune (R-S.D.), the Ranking Member and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet, introduced the Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency (PACT) Act, new bipartisan legislation to update Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The PACT Act will strengthen transparency in the process online platforms use to moderate content and hold those companies accountable for content that violates their own policies or is illegal.

“Section 230 was created to help jumpstart the internet economy, while giving internet companies the responsibility to set and enforce reasonable rules on content. But today, it has become clear that some companies have not taken that responsibility seriously enough,” said Senator Schatz, lead Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee’s Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet Subcommittee. “Our bill updates Section 230 by making platforms more accountable for their content moderation policies and providing more tools to protect consumers.”

“There is a bipartisan consensus that Section 230, which governs certain internet use, is ripe for reform,” said Senator Thune, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet Subcommittee. “There is also a bipartisan concern that social media platforms are often not transparent and accountable enough to consumers with respect to the platform’s moderation of user-generated content. That’s why I’m proud to join Sen. Schatz in introducing the PACT Act, which would strengthen online transparency, accountability, and consumer protection. It would, among other things, require technology companies to have an acceptable use policy that reasonably informs users about the content that is allowed on platforms and provide notice to users that there is a process to dispute content moderation decisions. The internet has thrived because of the light touch approach by which it’s been governed in its relatively short history. By using that same approach when it comes to Section 230 reform, we can ensure platform users are protected, while also holding companies accountable.”

Enacted in 1996, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1934 offers broad immunity to internet companies for hosting user-generated content and provides protection for platforms that take an active role moderating content on their sites. More than two decades later, while Section 230 has allowed the internet economy to thrive, these protections have led to inconsistent, opaque content moderation practices, a lack of online platform accountability, and an inability to enforce federal regulations in the digital world.

The Schatz-Thune PACT Act creates more transparency by:

  • Requiring online platforms to explain their content moderation practices in an acceptable use policy that is easily accessible to consumers;
  • Implementing a quarterly reporting requirement for online platforms that includes disaggregated statistics on content that has been removed, demonetized, or deprioritized; and
  • Promoting open collaboration and sharing of industry best practices and guidelines through a National Institute of Standards and Technology-led voluntary framework.

The PACT Act will hold platforms accountable by:

  • Requiring large online platforms to provide process protections to consumers by having a defined complaint system that processes reports and notifies users of moderation decisions within 14 days, and allows consumers to appeal online platforms’ content moderation decisions within the relevant company;
  • Amending Section 230 to require large online platforms to remove court-determined illegal content and activity within 24 hours; and
  • Allowing small online platforms to have more flexibility in responding to user complaints, removing illegal content, and acting on illegal activity, based on their size and capacity.

The PACT Act will protect consumers by:

  • Exempting the enforcement of federal civil laws from Section 230 so that online platforms cannot use it as a defense when federal regulators, like the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission, pursue civil actions for online activity;
  • Allowing state attorneys general to enforce federal civil laws against online platforms that have the same substantive elements of the laws and regulations of that state; and
  • Requiring the Government Accountability Office to study and report on the viability of an FTC-administered whistleblower program for employees or contractors of online platforms.

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