Future Tense

All the Ways Congress Wants to Change Section 230

Republicans and Democrats alike want to change Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Here’s a comprehensive list of the proposed legislation so far.

A pile of papers viewed from the side.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

2020 was the year of COVID-19 and lockdowns, of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and of a presidential election that included an impeachment and muted debate mics.

But in tech policy, 2020 may be remembered as the year that an arcane provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act became front-page news. Both Republicans and Democrats used Section 230 as a political football to bolster their arguments on racism, misogyny, censorship, elitism, public health, and tech company power. Oddly, it was one of the few issues of agreement between the two presidential candidates, with both Donald Trump and Joe Biden calling for repeal.

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In policy circles, there is active discussion about what Section 230 does and doesn’t do, and misunderstandings are rampant. But most experts agree that it has been the bedrock of the growth of the internet sector since it became law in 1996 and that it is a cornerstone of online expression. It has been referred to as the “26 words that created the internet” and as the internet’s Magna Carta.

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The core idea of Section 230 is that content creators are liable for content they post online, but hosts are not. If John posts a defamatory comment on a website, he can be held liable, but the website can’t. The protection applies to tech platforms serving as hosts, but tech platforms can be liable when they create content (think Netflix), and news publishers can use Section 230 as a defense when they serve as hosts (think the New York Times Cooking comment section).* The protection also provides important procedural benefits in litigation: It enables defendants to kick a suit out of court before discovery, which is often the most expensive phase of litigation.

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Section 230 has come under criticism by both the left and the right. Many on the left argue that it has enabled tech platforms to host harmful content with impunity, while many on the right argue that it has enabled tech platforms to disproportionately suppress conservative speech. The left is particularly concerned with harms against vulnerable communities, such as women and people of color. The right has alleged that tech companies’ content policies and enforcement practices reflect the viewpoints of left-leaning employees. Both sides point to Section 230 as the problem, even though they have opposing views on what that problem is.

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As Section 230 became a fixture of election debates and Trump’s Twitter feed, legislators from both sides of the aisle introduced bills to try to address their concerns. Democrats introduced bills that reduced the scope of Section 230 protections in civil rights cases and terrorism cases, while Republicans introduced bills that sought to compel platforms to be more “neutral” in their moderation of online content. And there were even a few bipartisan proposals, which focused on child sexual exploitation, content moderation operations, and reduced protections for content that courts determine to be illegal. Some of the proposals may be reasonable; others could collide with the First Amendment.

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With a flurry of bills introduced in 2020 and 2021—and roughly 12 bills introduced in the last four months of 2020 alone—it’s been tough for researchers, company employees, and policymakers to keep track. Even for tech policy diehards who spend their mornings reading tech policy newsletters and keep close tabs on press releases from congressional offices, trying to piece together the Section 230 reform puzzle can be a full-time job.

That’s why Future Tense; the Tech, Law, & Security Program at the Washington College of Law at American University; and the Center on Science & Technology Policy at Duke University are partnering on a project to track all legislation to reform Section 230.

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This Section 230 Reform Legislative Tracker includes information on each bill that has been introduced in Congress to reform Section 230 since 2020. The legislative summaries include the date the legislation was introduced, co-sponsors, status, a short overview of the substance of the legislation, a description of the type of reform that is proposed, and a link to the full text. It includes all legislation in the last Congress, as well as ongoing tracking of legislation introduced in the current one. The legislative analysis is led by American students Kiran Jeevanjee, Timothy Schmeling, and Irene Ly and Duke students Brian Lim, Niharika Vattikonda, and Joyce Zhou.

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Our hope is that this work will enable researchers to better understand the scope of the proposals that have been introduced and to keep tabs on their progress through the legislative process. Perhaps most importantly, we hope that providing this legislation in one place will help to facilitate research on the policy mechanisms that legislators are seeking to use to change a regulatory framework for online speech that has existed for decades and to develop insights into which of these mechanisms may be more or less successful for achieving particular policy objectives.

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Section 230 skeptics and defenders alike sometimes suggest that there are easy answers here. Alter everything or alter nothing. Prohibit speech or protect it. To many, Section 230 is the cornerstone of all that’s good about the internet, or the cause of everything that’s bad. But if reform were straightforward, we wouldn’t have a list of dozens of colliding and overlapping proposals. By cataloging the proposed reforms, perhaps we can help create a more productive discussion around the 26 words that have launched endless debates. —Matt Perault

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Categories:

• Repeal: Bills that repeal Section 230 in whole
• Limiting the Scope: Bills that restrict the types of activities protected by Section 230. These bills would prohibit companies from using Section 230 as a defense under certain conditions, such as in cases of child sexual exploitation or civil rights violations.
• Imposing New Obligations: Bills that impose new obligations (such as a duty of care or quid pro quo requirements) on companies that wish to use Section 230 as a defense
• Good Samaritan: Bills that alter the “Good Samaritan” portion of Section 230. This includes bills that attempt to address perceived political bias or censorship.

All bills introduced in the 116th congressional session (2019-2020) are no longer pending. As you can see, some of those bills have been reintroduced for consideration in the 117th congressional session (2020-2021).

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This list was updated on Oct. 15, 2021.

Bill name: Protect Speech Act
Sponsor: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)
Co-sponsors: Reps. Tom McClintock (R-California), Dan Bishop (R-North Carolina), Thomas Tiffany (R-Wisconsin), Victoria Spartz (R-Indiana), W. Gregory Steube (R-Florida), Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana), Scott Fitzgerald (R-Wisconsin), Darrell E. Issa (R-California), Michelle Fischbach (R-Minnesota), Burgess Owens (R-Utah), Vern Buchanan (R-Florida), Randy Weber, Sr. (R-Texas), Tom Rice (R-South Carolina)
Date introduced: June 11
Status: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Categories: Limiting the Scope, Good Samaritan
Summary: This bill would narrow a platform’s ability to use Section 230 as a defense for content removal. A platform could no longer use (C)(1) as a defense in cases where it removes content, and the bill would narrow the scope of the (C)(2), the Good Samaritan provision. To use Section 230 as a defense, the platform would need to publicly state terms of service that detail criteria used in content moderation decisions. Platforms would also need to comply with those stated terms of service and content moderation criteria, and would need to ensure that content moderation is not made on deceptive grounds. When content is restricted, platforms would need to provide a rationale and an opportunity for the user to respond, with certain exceptions for law enforcement and imminent threats to safety.

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Bill name: 21st Century Foundation for the Right to Express and Engage in Speech Act (21st Century FREE Speech Act)
Sponsor: Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tennessee)
Co-sponsors:
Date introduced: April 27
Status: Referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Category: Repeal; Good Samaritan
Summary: The 21st Century FREE Speech Act would repeal Section 230 in its entirety. In its place, the bill would reclassify platforms covered under Section 230 as common carriers. Currently, platforms are allowed to determine which content and users can remain on the platform, and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are under no legal obligation to provide their services to everyone. In contrast, a common carrier is required to provide its services to everyone, provided that basic criteria are met. For example, a telephone company can be considered a common carrier, as the company cannot arbitrarily prevent certain customers from placing calls or sending texts, provided that the customers have met the basic standard of paying for the plan. The reclassification of platforms as common carriers would impose additional responsibilities for platforms to provide their services to anyone.

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This bill outlines obligations for “common carrier technology companies,” which are interactive computer services that offer services to the public and have at least 100 million global active monthly users. As common carrier technology companies, they would be required to provide their service to anyone without discriminating against individual users or classes of users and without discriminating based on political or religious affiliation or region. This bill would also require that platforms publicly disclose their policies regarding content moderation, promotion, curation, and account suspension.

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Much like Section 230, this bill states that no provider or user of an interactive computer service will be treated as the publisher or speaker of content provided from another source. However, that treatment would not apply to any situation in which a platform takes action to change the visibility of content—through recommending content or restricting access, for example—thereby limiting the scope of the protections. The bill would also establish liability protections for the good-faith removal of content that is “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, promoting self-harm, or unlawful, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.” However, the liability protections would apply only to companies that remove content in accordance with their posted content moderation policies. The bill would establish a private right of action, and states could also bring investigations or lawsuits based on the provisions of the bill.

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Bill name: Protecting Americans From Dangerous Algorithms Act
Sponsor: Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey), Anna Eshoo (D-California)
Co-sponsors: Reps. Sean Casten (D-Illinois), Jason Crow (D-Colorado), Suzan DelBene (D-Washington), Mark DeSaulnier (D-California), Ted Deutch (D-Florida), Sara Jacobs (D-California), Barbara Lee (D-California), Joe Neguse (D-Colorado), Dean Phillips (D-Minnesota), Haley Stevens (D-Michigan), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida), Peter Welch (D-Vermont)
Date introduced: March 23
Status: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Category: Limiting the Scope
Summary: The Protecting Americans From Dangerous Algorithms Act, reintroduced from the 116th Congress, would prevent platforms from using Section 230 as a defense in cases related to civil rights violations and terrorist acts if the companies use algorithms to disseminate and amplify the content at issue. Companies may still use Section 230 as a defense in these cases if they distribute content using methods that are “obvious, understandable, and transparent” to a reasonable user, including chronological order, alphabetical order, average user rating rankings, and sorting based on number of user reviews. The bill exempts cases where “a user specifically searches for” information and an algorithm or other computational process aids in returning search results. This bill differs from the 2020 version by exempting providers of internet infrastructure services - including web hosting, domain registration, content delivery networks, caching, data storage, and cybersecurity - from liability under this provision. The bill provides a small-business exemption for companies with fewer than 10 million users in at least three of the past 12 months. In the 2020 version of the bill, the small-business exemption applied to companies with fewer than 50 million unique monthly users/visitors for at least six of the preceding 12 months.

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Bill Name: Stop Shielding Culpable Platforms Act
Sponsor: Rep. Jim Banks (R-Indiana)
Co-sponsors: Reps. Thomas Tiffany (R-Wisconsin), Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pennsylvania), Andy Barr (R-Kentucky), Ralph Norman (R-South Carolina), Randy K. Weber, Sr. (R-Texas), Dan Bishop (R-North Carolina), Brian Babin (R-Texas), Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), Lisa C. McClain (R-Michigan)
Date introduced: March 18, 2021
Status: Referred to House Energy and Commerce Committee
Category: Imposing New Obligations
Summary: The act would amend Section 230 to clarify that it does not prevent a provider or a user of an interactive computer service from being treated as the distributor of information provided by another information content provider.

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Bill name: Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency (PACT) Act
Co-sponsors: Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and John Thune (R–South Dakota)
Date introduced: March 17, 2021
Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Category: Imposing New Obligations
Summary: The PACT Act was originally introduced in the 2019-2020 Congressional Session. This is an updated version that was reintroduced with meaningful changes in the 2021-2022 congressional session. Most notably, the updated bill carves outs exceptions for individual providers, outlines scalable requirements based on a platform’s revenue and size, and clarifies platform obligations regarding the complaint system, the phone line, and the transparency report.

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Under the PACT Act, to receive Section 230 immunity, interactive computer service providers would be required to publish an acceptable use policy that would detail the types of content the provider allows, explain how the provider enforces its content policies, and describe how users can report policy-violating or illegal content. The PACT Act would also require providers to establish call centers with a live representative to assist users with the process of filing good-faith complaints eight hours per day, five days per week; to provide an email address to which users can submit complaints; and to create an easy-to-use complaint filing system that would allow users to file and track complaints and appeals. Because the act would require users to make complaints in good faith, providers would be permitted to filter complaints for spam, trolls, and abusive complaints.

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The PACT Act would also require that a provider review and remove illegal and/or policy-violating content in a timely manner to receive Section 230 protections. Providers would be required to remove illegal content (as determined by a court) within four days of being put on notice of the illegal content and to initiate removal action for content that violates the provider’s publicized acceptable use policy within 14 days of receiving the complaint. Platforms would then be required to notify users that the provider had removed the content, give an explanation, and allow the user the opportunity to appeal the decision.

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Providers must also issue biannual transparency reports, which would include the number of content-related complaints filed by users, the number of times the provider acted upon those complaints and the method of enforcement, and the number of appeals filed by users.

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Under the PACT Act, small businesses that receive fewer than 1 million unique monthly visitors and have an accrued revenue of $50 million or less are exempt from the live call center requirement and have softened time constraints related to processing complaints. Small businesses would be allowed to process complaints of illegal and/or policy violating content within four and 21 days, respectively. Individual providers—like independent bloggers—who have fewer than 100,000 unique monthly visitors and an accrued revenue less than $1 million have minimal requirements under the act. They are only required to provide users with a contact system to alert the provider about content on their site, and they must remove illegal content within four days of notice. The PACT Act also exempts internet infrastructure companies from all provisions of the bill described above.

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Bill name: Abandoning Online Censorship (AOC) Act
Sponsor: Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
Co-sponsors: None
Date introduced: Feb. 5, 2021
Status: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Category: Repeal
Summary: This bill is an updated version of the AOC Act introduced in the 2019-2020 Congressional Session. The Abandoning Online Censorship (AOC) Act would repeal Section 230.

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Bill Name: Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism, and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act 
Sponsor: Announced by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Virginia), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota)
Co-sponsor: None
Date introduced: Announced Feb. 5, 2021
Status: Announced but not yet introduced
Category: Limiting the Scope
Summary: Under the SAFE TECH Act, companies would not be able to use Section 230 as a defense for issues related to ads or other content they are paid to make available. The act would also prevent a company from using Section 230 to prevent injunctive relief (e.g., a court order compelling the company to take some action) arising from the company’s failure to “remove, restrict access to or availability of, or prevent dissemination of material” that could cause irreparable harm. The act would prevent platforms from using Section 230 as a defense in cases brought under several different legal bases, including civil rights, antitrust, stalking and harassment, human rights, and wrongful death. The SAFE TECH Act also requires companies that wish to use Section 230 as a defense to prove that they are “a provider or user of an interactive computer service,” and that they are “being treated as the publisher or speaker of speech provided by another information content provider.”

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Bill Name: See Something, Say Something Online Act of 2021
Sponsor: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia)
Co-sponsor: Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)
Date introduced: Jan. 22, 2021
Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Category: Imposing New Obligations
Summary: This bill is an updated version of the See Something, Say Something Online Act of 2020 introduced in the 2019-2020 congressional session. The See Something, Say Something Online Act of 2021 would require interactive computer services to report suspicious transmissions that they detect and that show individuals or groups planning, committing, promoting, and facilitating terrorism; serious drug offenses; and violent crimes to the Department of Justice. The bill only requires providers to report suspicious transmissions they detect. It would not require providers to scan all content on their site to identify these transmissions. Providers would have to take “reasonable steps” to prevent and address such suspicious transmissions. Any provider that fails to report a suspicious transmission of which the provider should have reasonably been aware would not be able to use Section 230 as a defense and could be held liable as a publisher for the suspicious transmission.

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Bill name: Curbing Abuse and Saving Expression in Technology (CASE-IT) Act
Sponsor: Rep. W. Gregory Steube (R-Florida)
Co-sponsors: Reps. Madison Cawthorn (R–North Carolina), Kevin Hern (R-Oklahoma), Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa), Jefferson Van Drew (R–New Jersey)
Date introduced: Jan. 12, 2021
Status: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Category: Imposing New Obligations, Good Samaritan
Summary: This bill is an updated version of the CASE-IT Act introduced in the 2019-2020 Congressional Session. The CASE-IT Act would prevent a company from using Section 230 as a defense for a period of one year if that company “creates, develops, posts, materially contributes to, or induces another person to create, develop, post, or materially contribute to illegal online content.” The CASE-IT Act would also require companies with market dominance that want to use Section 230 as a defense to follow content moderation policies that are consistent with the First Amendment. Companies could be considered “dominant” regardless of whether they have actual monopoly power. The act also includes a private right of action provision that would allow users to bring a civil action against dominant companies that fail to follow content moderation policies that are consistent with the First Amendment.

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Bill name: Protecting Constitutional Rights From Online Platform Censorship Act 
Sponsor: Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tennessee)
Co-Sponsor: None
Date introduced: Jan. 4, 2021
Status: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Category: Good Samaritan
Summary: The Protecting Constitutional Rights From Online Platform Censorship Act would strike the Good Samaritan blocking provision of Section 230 and would make it unlawful for any internet platform to restrict access or availability to content. Under the act, a user may sue a company if an internet platform restricts access and permits monetary relief to the user of no less than $10,000 but no more than $50,000 per action.

Bills from the 116th Congress

Bill name: A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to increase the additional 2020 recovery rebates, to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)
Co-sponsor: Sen. David Perdue (R-Georgia)
Date introduced: Dec. 29, 2020
Status: Read twice and placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders; no longer active
Category: Repeal
Summary: This proposal was part of the negotiation over COVID-19 relief in December 2020. It would increase the stimulus checks for COVID-19 from $600 to $2,000 in exchange for repealing Section 230 in its entirety, along with additional proposals related to election integrity.

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Bill Name: A bill to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934
Sponsor: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–South Carolina)
Co-sponsors: None
Date introduced: Dec. 15, 2020
Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; no longer active
Category: Repeal
Summary: The bill would repeal Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934.

Bill name: Holding Sexual Predators and Online Enablers Accountable Act of 2020
Sponsor: Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia)
Co-sponsors: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas)
Date introduced: Dec. 11, 2020
Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary; no longer active
Category: Limiting the Scope
Summary: The Holding Sexual Predators and Online Enablers Accountable Act of 2020 would strip Section 230 liability protections from any company that willfully or recklessly promotes or facilitates child exploitation. Anyone who owns, manages, or operates an online platform that violates this rule would face fines and imprisonment of up to 25 years.

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Bill name: Abandoning Online Censorship (AOC) Act
Sponsor: Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
Co-sponsors: Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), Tom McClintock (R-California), Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado), Lance Gooden (R-Texas), Steve King (R-Iowa), Trent Kelly (R-Mississippi), Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio)
Date introduced: Dec. 8, 2020
Status: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; no longer active
Category: Repeal
Summary: The Abandoning Online Censorship (AOC) Act would repeal Section 230.

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Bill name: Curbing Abuse and Saving Expression in Technology (CASE-IT) Act
Sponsors: Rep. W. Gregory Steube (R-Florida)
Co-sponsors: Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Oklahoma)
Date introduced: Oct. 30, 2020
Status: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; no longer active
Category: Imposing New Obligations, Good Samaritan
Summary: The CASE-IT Act would prevent a company from using Section 230 as a defense for a period of one year if that company “creates, develops, posts, materially contributes to, or induces another person to create, develop, post, or materially contribute to illegal online content.” The CASE-IT Act would also require companies with market dominance that want to use Section 230 as a defense to follow content moderation policies that are consistent with the First Amendment. Companies could be considered “dominant” regardless of whether or not they have actual monopoly power. The act also includes a private right of action provision that would allow users to bring civil action against dominant companies that fail to follow content moderation policies that are consistent with the First Amendment.

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Bill name: Stop Suppressing Speech Act of 2020
Sponsor: Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia)
Co-sponsors: None
Date introduced: Oct. 21, 2020
Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; no longer active
Category: Limiting the Scope, Good Samaritan
Summary: The Stop Suppressing Speech Act of 2020 would amend (c)(2) so that companies would receive liability protection when they moderate content only if it falls within three categories: harassment, illegal content, or violence and terrorism.

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Bill name: Protecting Americans From Dangerous Algorithms Act 
Sponsors: Rep. Tom Malinowski (D–New Jersey)
Co-sponsor: Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-California)
Date introduced: Oct. 20, 2020
Status: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; no longer active
Category: Limiting the Scope
Summary: Under the Protecting Americans From Dangerous Algorithms Act, a company could not use Section 230 as a defense in cases brought for civil rights violations or acts of international terrorism and if the company uses an algorithm that amplifies or recommends content relating directly to the case. Companies may still use Section 230 as a defense in these cases if they sort information so it is delivered to the user in chronological order, alphabetical order, or based on average user rating or number of user reviews. This exception does not apply to small businesses that have 50 million or fewer unique monthly users in the previous 12 months.

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Bill name: Protect Speech Act
Sponsor: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)
Co-sponsors: Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Doug Collins (R-Georgia), Ken Buck (R-Colorado), Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), Tom McClintock (R-California), Debbie Lesko (R-Arizona), Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pennsylvania), Ben Cline (R-Virginia), W. Gregory Steube (R-Florida), Thomas Tiffany (R-Wisconsin), Kevin Hern (R-Oklahoma), Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana), Jim Hagedorn (R-Minnesota), Bill Posey (R-Florida), John Rutherford (R-Florida), Vern Buchanan (R-Florida), John Rose (R-Tennessee)
Date introduced: Oct. 2, 2020
Status: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; no longer active
Category: Imposing New Obligations
Summary: This bill would remove the term “otherwise objectionable” from the list of reasons under which companies can remove or restrict access to content in good faith without losing the ability to use Section 230 as a defense. This bill would replace the term “otherwise objectionable” and would instead add more specific types of content that could be removed, including content that is illegal, promotes terrorism or violent extremism, or promotes self-harm. The bill would also require platforms that want to use Section 230 as a defense to publicize their terms of service and criteria used in content moderation practices, comply with those stated practices, not restrict content on deceptive or inconsistent grounds, and, except in certain cases related to public safety, provide notice to content providers when access to their content or its availability is restricted.

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Bill name: Don’t Push My Buttons Act (House Version)
Sponsors: Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona)
Co-sponsors: Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Eric Crawford (R-Arkansas)
Date introduced: Oct. 2, 2020
Status: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; no longer active
Category: Limiting the Scope
Summary: Identical to Sen. John Kennedy’s bill of the same name, the Don’t Push My Buttons Act provides that companies cannot use Section 230 as a defense if they collect user data and then use the data in an algorithm that delivers content to the user, unless a user knowingly and intentionally elects to receive such tailored content.

Bill name: Don’t Push My Buttons Act (Senate Version) 
Sponsor: Sen. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana)
Co-sponsors: None
Date introduced: Sept. 29, 2020
Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; no longer active
Category: Limiting the Scope
Summary: Identical to Rep. Paul Gosar’s bill of the same name, the Don’t Push My Buttons Act provides that companies cannot use Section 230 as a defense if they collect user data and then use the data in an algorithm that delivers content to the user, unless a user knowingly and intentionally elects to receive such tailored content.

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Bill name: See Something, Say Something Online Act of 2020
Co-sponsors: Sens. Joe Manchin (D–West Virginia) and John Cornyn (R-Texas)
Date introduced: Sept. 29, 2020
Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; no longer active
Category: Imposing New Obligations
Summary: The See Something, Say Something Online Act of 2020 would require interactive computer services to report suspicious transmissions that they detect and that show individuals or groups planning, committing, promoting, and facilitating terrorism; serious drug offenses; and violent crimes to the Department of Justice. The bill only requires providers to report suspicious transmissions they detect. It would not require providers to scan all content on their site to identify these transmissions. Providers would have to take “reasonable steps” to prevent and address such suspicious transmissions. Any provider that fails to report a suspicious transmission of which the provider should have reasonably been aware would not be able to use Section 230 as a defense and could be held liable as a publisher for the suspicious transmission.

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Bill name: Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act
Sponsor: Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi)
Co-sponsors: Sens. Lindsey Graham (R–South Carolina), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee)
Date introduced: Sept. 8, 2020
Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; no longer active
Category: Good Samaritan
Summary: The Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act would amend Section 230 so that companies would receive liability protection only if they meet an objective reasonableness standard when moderating content. This standard would replace the term “otherwise objectionable” in (c)(2) and instead, a company would receive Section 230 protection only if it moderates content that objectively falls within certain categories, such as content that is illegal or promotes terrorism or self-harm.

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Bill name: Stop the Censorship Act of 2020
Sponsor: Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona)
Co-sponsors: Reps. Doug Collins (R-Georgia), Ralph Norman (R–South Carolina), Lance Gooden (R-Texas), Steve King (R-Iowa), Jim Banks (R-Indiana), Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), Ted S. Yoho (R-Florida), Thomas P. Tiffany (R-Wisconsin), Ron Wright (R-Texas), Glenn Grothman (R-Wisconsin), Eric A. “Rick” Crawford (R-Arkansas), Brian Babin (R-Texas), Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado), Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), Ross Spano (R-Florida), Fred Keller (R-Pennsylvania), James R. Baird (R-Indiana), Doug LaMalfa (R-California), Jody B. Hice (R-Georgia), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Robert J. Wittman (R-Virginia), John W. Rose (R-Tennessee)
Date introduced: July 29, 2020
Status: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; no longer active
Category: Limiting the Scope, Good Samaritan
Summary: The Stop the Censorship Act of 2020 would amend Section 230 to prevent companies from using Section 230 as a defense if they act to restrict access to or availability of material they consider to be “objectionable.” Instead, the bill would more narrowly allow companies to block content that is “unlawful, or that promotes violence or terrorism.” The act also includes protections for platforms that provide users with tools to restrict the type of material they see on the platform.

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Bill name: Stopping Big Tech’s Censorship Act 
Sponsor: Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia)
Co-sponsor: None
Date introduced: June 24, 2020
Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; no longer active
Category: Good Samaritan
Summary: The Stopping Big Tech’s Censorship Act would require companies to take reasonable steps to prevent and address any unlawful use or unlawful publication on its platform by its users. The act also states that a company that restricts access to or availability of constitutionally protected material cannot use Section 230 as a defense unless the action is taken in a viewpoint-neutral manner; the restriction limits only the time, place, or manner in which the material is available; and there is a compelling reason for restricting that access or availability. If a company places any restrictions on material, it must give an explanation of that decision.

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Bill name: Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency (PACT) Act
Co-sponsors: Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and John Thune (R–South Dakota)
Date introduced: June 24, 2020 (reintroduced March 2, 2021)
Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; no longer active
Category: Imposing New Obligations
Summary: Under the PACT Act, to receive Section 230 immunity, platforms would be required to publish an acceptable use policy that would detail the types of content the platform allows, explain how the platform enforces its content policies, and describe how users can report policy-violating or illegal content. The PACT Act would also require platforms to establish call centers with a live representative to take user complaints eight hours per day, five days per week; to provide an email address to which users can submit complaints; and to create an easy-to-use complaint filing system that would allow users to file and track complaints and appeals.

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The PACT Act would also require that a platform review and remove illegal and/or policy-violating content in a timely manner to receive Section 230 protections. Platforms would be required to remove illegal content (as determined by a court) within 24 hours and to remove content that violates the platform’s publicized acceptable use policy within 14 days. Platforms would then be required to notify users that the platform had removed the content, provide an explanation, and give the user the opportunity to appeal the decision.

Platforms must also issue quarterly transparency reports, which would include the number of content-related complaints filed by users, the number of times the platform acted upon those complaints and the method of enforcement, and the number of appeals filed by users.

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Under the PACT Act, small businesses that receive fewer than 1 million monthly visitors and have an accrued revenue of $2 million or less are exempt from the live call center requirement and have softened time constraints related to processing complaints. Small businesses would be allowed to process complaints of illegal and/or policy violating content within a reasonable period of time. The PACT Act also exempts internet infrastructure companies from all provisions of the bill described above.

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Bill Name: Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act
Sponsor: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri)
Co-sponsors: None
Date introduced: June 19, 2020
Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; no longer active
Category: Imposing New Obligations, Good Samaritan
Summary: The act would withdraw Section 230 protections unless a company obtained an immunity certification from the Federal Trade Commission. A company would receive an immunity certification from the FTC if the company proves by clear and convincing evidence that it does not, and did not in the preceding two-year period, moderate user content in a politically biased manner. There are two exceptions to the immunity certification process. The first exception is when there is a business necessity for speech that would be protected under the First Amendment and there are no available alternatives that would have a less disproportionate effect on the speech and the provider did not act with the intent to discriminate based on political affiliation, political party, or political viewpoint. The second exception is when an employee’s actions clearly show that they acted in a biased manner, and the employer terminated or otherwise disciplined them.

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Bill Name: Limiting Section 230 Immunity to Good Samaritans Act
Sponsor: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri)
Co-sponsors: Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia)
Date introduced: June 17, 2020
Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; no longer active
Category: Good Samaritan
Summary: The act would provide a more specific definition of “good faith” in subsection (c)(2) It would define “good faith” as when “the provider acts with an honest belief and purpose, observes fair dealing standards, and acts without fraudulent intent.”

Bill name: Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act
Sponsor: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–South Carolina)
Co-sponsors: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Kevin Cramer (R–North Dakota), Doug Jones (D-Alabama), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Sheldon Whitehouse (D–Rhode Island), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), John Kennedy (R-Louisiana), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia)
Date introduced: March 5, 2020 (significantly amended July 20, 2020)
Status: Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders; no longer active
Category: Limiting the Scope
Summary (of the amended version): The EARN IT Act would amend Section 230 so that platforms cannot use Section 230 as a defense in state criminal cases and federal and state civil cases regarding the proliferation of child sexual abuse material. In the significantly amended version, a provision was added to note that providers that use end-to-end encryption or are unable to decrypt communications will not face liability purely “because” these cybersecurity protections are built into the platform; the bill in its original state raised concerns that platforms may be liable for content that they are unable to decrypt. The bill would also create a National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention to develop best practices for platforms to respond to the online sexual exploitation of children.

This article has been updated to include the See Something, Say Something Online Act of 2021 and the Stop Shielding Culpable Platforms Act. It was also updated to note that all of the bills introduced in the 116th Congress are no longer pending.

Correction, March 23, 2021: This article originally misstated that news publishers can be liable when they serve as hosts for content. News publishers can use Section 230 as a defense against being liable when they serve as hosts for content.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.

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