- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2019

White House hopeful Beto O’Rourke put forth plans Friday to hold internet companies accountable for the proliferation of hate speech on their platforms.

Mr. O’Rourke, a former congressman for Texas seeking the Democratic nomination, proposed reconsidering existing protections that prevent internet companies from being held legally responsible for content uploaded by their users.

He suggested changing Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act (CDA) so that companies like Twitter and Facebook could be sued for not removing “hateful” content.

“Beto would require large internet platforms to adopt terms of service to ban hateful activities, defined as those that incite or engage in violence, intimidation, harassment, threats or defamation targeting an individual or group based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability,” reads a proposed policy summary published on Mr. O’Rourke’s campaign website.

Companies would be required to implement systems designed to “identify and act” on hateful user content or else risk being taken to court, according to the proposal.

“Beto supports amending Section 230 of the CDA to remove legal immunity from lawsuits for large social media platforms that fail to change their terms of service and put in place systems as described above,” reads the proposal. “Informational service providers of all sizes, including domain name servers and social media platforms, also would be held liable where they are found to knowingly promote content that incites violence.”

Enacted in 1996, Section 230 of the CDA broadly limits website publishers from being held legally responsible for content posted to their sites by third-parties with some exceptions, such as instances involving intellectual property and federal criminal law. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a leading digital rights groups, has previously called the statute “one of the most valuable tools for protecting freedom of expression and innovation on the Internet.”

Calls to quench the spread of online hate speech have emerged recently in tandem with questions involving the role the internet may have had in radicalizing recent mass-shooters.

The gunman accused of killing 22 people this month at a Walmart in El Paso, Mr. O’Rourke’s hometown, is believed to have published a racist manifesto beforehand on 8chan, a website that hosts several message boards that allows users to post anonymously. Similar manifesto were uploaded to 8chan prior to other recent mass-shootings, and the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security has since subpoenaed the website’s owner to testify in Congress.

“We must connect the dots between internet communities providing a platform for online radicalization and white supremacy, as propaganda outlets like Fox News fuel that fire, and the fact that hate crimes against Black and LGBTQ+ Americans are on the rise,” said Mr. O’Rourke.

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