Senators Unveil SAFE TECH Act to Reform Section 230

On Friday Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) unveiled a new bill, entitled “Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism, and Consumer Harms Act (SAFE TECH Act) designed to reform controversial Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law that provides liability protections to tech platforms. The newly introduced bill could make tech giants more accountable for harmful content on their platforms.

In reference to Section 230 Sen. Warner stated, “While the law was meant to encourage service providers and users to adopt tools to screen and filter objectionable content, it has instead conferred sweeping immunity on online providers even when they do nothing to address misuse of their products, leaving consumers who suffer harm with little – if any – recourse.” For example, the Senator pointed to the fact that “the multi-billion dollar online advertising market has become a focal point for scam artists and fraudsters, with online intermediaries turning a blind eye to the ways in which their tools are repeatedly misused by bad actors to prey on vulnerable consumers.”

Specifically, the SAFE TECH Act would provide new ways for users to sue companies if content posted on their platforms personally threatens them with harassment, discrimination, or other forms of abuse. Additionally, the bill prevents Section 230 from applying to paid content on platforms such as advertisements, thus taking a swing at a large portion of these platforms’ revenue. The bill also clarifies that Section 230 does not bar injunctive relief, wrongful death action, or lawsuits brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act. It will also not impair, limit, or prevent the enforcement of civil rights law; antitrust laws; stalking, harassment, or intimidation laws; among others.

Sen. Warner tweeted, “The SAFE TECH Act doesn’t interfere with free speech – it’s about allowing these platforms to finally be held accountable for harmful, often criminal behavior enabled by their platforms to which they have turned a blind eye for too long.”

Both Democrats and Republicans have wanted to reform Section 230 for different reasons with Democrats wanting to mitigate alleged misinformation and harmful content and Republicans wanting to punish the tech giants for an alleged bias against conservatives. However, this is the Democrats’ first big content moderation bill and attempt to reform Section 230 following content on Parler and other tech platforms that purportedly led to the Capitol riots last month.