Legally liable? Debate rages over internet companies being immune to lawsuits over user posts

Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON (Nexstar) – The debate is raging on over whether big internet and social media companies like Google and Facebook should be legally liable for posts made by their users.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr hosted a workshop this week to examine the law that currently gives the companies immunity from lawsuits.

“No longer are tech companies the underdog upstarts,” Barr said. “They have become titans of U.S. industry.”

That’s why Barr gathered members of the industry and law enforcement for a debate on the future of a law that gives a free pass to online companies when their users post questionable – and sometimes illegal – content.

“Valid questions have been raised about whether Section 230’s broad immunity is still necessary, at least in its current form,” Barr said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that, as the internet and social media companies have evolved into tech juggernauts, so has criminal activity on the platforms.

“That same technology that facilitates free speech, connects us with our loved ones and our friends and enriches our lives can pose serious dangers,” he said.

Wray says users post hate speech, sell illegal drugs and even promote terrorism. But the law grants companies immunity from lawsuits due to the material.

Yiota Souras with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says companies should have more liability – especially when it comes to child sexual abuse.

“The volume is tremendous and continues to grow, especially in areas like video content,” she said.

But Matt Schruers with the Computer and Communications Industry Association says many companies are already policing the material.

“More can be done but I don’t think we should assume that the misconduct of a few bad actors is generalizable across a large industry,” Schruers said.

While the Justice Department can make recommendations, only Congress can change the law. That’s another debate with no end in sight.

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