U.S. to Hold Tech Firms Accountable for Spread of Child Sex Abuse Imagery

The broad application of Section 230 is widely credited with allowing the modern internet to flourish. But some experts say that the law’s effectiveness stems from its simplicity, and that carving out exceptions for certain types of content, as the bill does, will cause concerns.

“This won’t be an easy bill to pass,” said Paul Gallant, a technology policy analyst at Cowen, a financial services firm in Washington. “Everyone in Congress supports reducing child exploitation, but there’s a broad recognition that these platforms and the American economy have benefited tremendously from lack of liability over user content.”

Yet the bill’s bipartisan support from two prominent senators does make it stand out, he said. “With Graham and Blumenthal leading the charge, it’s as well positioned as I could imagine.”

Elizabeth Banker, deputy general counsel at the Internet Association, a lobbying group whose members include Amazon, Facebook and Google, said Section 230 had benefited the industry by heading off litigation costs that could have hampered tech companies’ ability to host and moderate user content.

The group currently opposes the bill.

“We have very strong concerns,” said Michael Bloom, a senior vice president of the group, “that the EARN IT Act as introduced may impede existing industry efforts” to combat abuses online.

Some feel that a narrow exemption for child exploitation doesn’t go far enough, and leaves out an array of other harmful online behavior, including terrorist content, defamation and the nonconsensual sharing of nude images, or “revenge porn.”

“It’s essentially saying there are some harms that we actually do take seriously and others that we don’t,” said Mary Anne Franks, professor at the University of Miami School of Law and president of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a nonprofit group dedicated to combating online abuse.

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