The DOJ asked Congress to erode big tech’s legal protections as Trump accused firms of anti-conservative bias and ‘cancel culture’

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Attorney General William Barr (center) listens during a discussion with state attorneys general on social media abuses hosted by President Donald Trump in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, September 23, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

  • Attorney General William Barr announced Wednesday the Department of Justice has submitted legislation to Congress to reform the part of the US law that gives tech companies broad powers to moderate their platforms.
  • Barr said the proposed legislation is aimed at “requiring greater transparency and accountability when platforms remove lawful speech.”
  • The legislation follows on from an executive order issued by President Trump in May targeting social media for alleged anti-conservative bias.
  • Trump often claims online platforms are biased against conservatives, but has provided minimal evidence backing this up. 
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President Trump is ramping up the pressure on social media companies.

At a White House event on Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr announced the DOJ had submitted legislation to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

“That legislation addresses concerns about online censorship by requiring greater transparency and accountability when platforms remove lawful speech,” Barr said.

Barr did not elaborate on what powers the legislation would give the government to force tech companies to show their decision-making process for removing content.

Section 230 is the part of US law that gives internet companies the power to moderate what appears on their platform while also shielding them from legal liability for illegal content posted by users.

The legislation follows an executive order President Trump issued in May just two days after Twitter placed a fact-check on two of his tweets about mail-in voting.

The order sought to empower federal regulators to amend Section 230 and investigate allegations of anti-conservative bias against social media companies. Claiming tech firms are biased against the right-wing is a common conservative talking point, though there is scant evidence of any such bias.

Trump’s order is the subject of two lawsuits that allege it infringes on users’ and companies’ First Amendment rights.

Alongside the DOJ’s proposed legislation, Trump has been trying to push the executive order through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by nominating a new commissioner to replace current Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who has voiced opposition to the order on First Amendment grounds.

President Trump also attacked Silicon Valley tech companies more generally during the event on Wednesday, saying it was his aim to protect Americans from “censorship, cancel culture, and consumer abuses inflicted by big tech companies.”

“In recent years, a small group of powerful technology platforms have tightened their grip over commerce and communications in America,” Trump said, adding that he believed tech companies have become intolerant of conservative voices on their platforms at the “urging of the radical left.”

Trump has previously accused Twitter, Google, and Facebook of systematically discriminating against him. He has never produced evidence to support these claims, and the companies deny discriminating against conservative voices.

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