Department of Justice: Tech companies could be liable for users’ posts

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The debate rages on about whether big internet and social media companies like Google and Facebook should be legally liable for their users’ posts.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr hosted a workshop this week to examine Section 230, a law that currently gives the companies immunity from lawsuits when their users post questionable, and sometimes illegal, content.

“No longer are tech companies the underdog upstarts,” Barr told the crowd. “They have become titans of U.S. industry.”

Congress passed the law in the late 90s to help the young, struggling startups stay in business.  But now that they are some of the most powerful companies in the world, Barr is questioning Section 230’s relevance.

“Valid questions have been raised about whether Section 230’s broad immunity is still necessary, at least in its current form,” he said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray also weighed in at the workshop, warning as the internet and social media companies have evolved into tech juggernauts so has criminal activity on the platforms.

“That same technology that facilitates free speech, connects us with our loved ones and our friends, and enriches our lives can pose serious dangers,” Wray said.

Wray said users can post hate speech, sell illegal drugs and even promote terrorism, while companies maintain legal immunity.

Yiota Souras with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said companies should have more liability, especially when it comes to child sexual abuse material.

“The volume is tremendous and continues to grow, especially in areas like video content,” Souras said. 

However, Matt Schruers with the Computer and Communications Industry Association said many companies are already policing the material, and the law allows them to take it down without facing penalties.

“More can be done, but I don’t think we should assume that the misconduct of a few bad actors is generalizeable across a large industry,” Schruers said.  

While the Justice Department can make recommendations, only Congress can change the law.

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