Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced legislation Thursday to fight bogus medical claims online during health crises like the coronavirus pandemic. Her target: Section 230.
Klobuchar’s bill would carve out an exception to Section 230, the 1996 law that protects internet platforms from liability for content that users post, for health misinformation proliferating during public health emergencies — like the misinformation that has been running rampant about vaccines for Covid-19.
“We need a long term solution” that goes beyond removing accounts spreading falsehoods about the crisis, Klobuchar said. “This legislation will hold online platforms accountable.”
Why it matters: Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been pushing to amend or revoke the Section 230 statute — often for opposite reasons. Many congressional Democrats argue that social media platforms have leaned on Section 230 legal protections to flout responsibility for false and potentially dangerous content on their sites, like the medical misinformation that has undermined the uptake of Covid-19 vaccines.
The Biden administration is struggling to fight vaccination misinformation, a problem that has contributed to vaccine hesitancy and a plateau in inoculation rates at a time when the Delta variant is sweeping the country and the U.S. appears to be backsliding on recovery.
Klobuchar’s Health Misinformation Act of 2021, co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), is one attempt to address that, and it would extend beyond just the current crisis. Under the measure, tech platforms would be on the hook for propagating false or misleading health content during any public health emergency that has been declared as such by the secretary of Health and Human Services. The secretary, with input from experts and the leaders of other federal agencies, would be tasked with defining what qualifies as health misinformation.
What’s missing: Republican support. Political polarization around vaccinations is intensifying as some Republican lawmakers and conservative activists attack the vaccines and the administration’s strategy for deploying it. In this climate, without Republican buy-in, Klobuchar’s bill faces an uphill battle.