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DOJ Petitions Congress to Curb Legal Protections for Internet Companies

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is lobbying Congress to roll back legal protections that provide internet companies with immunity for the actions taken by their users. Internet-based platforms including Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL) (NASDAQ: GOOG) subsidiary Google, and Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) could be forced to take a greater role in policing content. 

The proposal seeks to curb the current protections, requiring the companies to take more responsibility for the material that appears on their platforms. The sites would still enjoy immunity in cases where they have acted to remove posts that incite violence or promote extremism. 

A gavel near a laptop with piles of $100 bills and a scale nearby.

Image source: Getty Images.

This follows an executive order issued in May by President Trump in the wake of a public scuffle involving Twitter, after the site applied a fact-checking notice to one of his tweets. Trump requested that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) look into the platforms for blocking certain users, saying the sites were "restricting free speech," and for failing to police their sites of unacceptable content. 

Both Democrats and Republicans want to evaluate the current legal protections enjoyed by social media and other internet-based companies and the use of those platforms for criminal activity, though they appear to have different objectives in mind.

President Trump and Republican lawmakers have balked at the process used by sites to censor or flag certain posts that violate guidelines or block users, accusing the companies of bias. For their part, Democrats want the companies to make greater efforts to restrict the spread of fake news and false content.

Online platforms are currently immune from prosecution and legal liability for illegal activity of users that takes place on their sites, except in very limited circumstances. Current legislation also provides internet companies with a great deal of latitude regarding how they police their users, but the DOJ proposal could change that.

Given the upcoming election, the proposed legislation is unlikely to be taken up until next year.

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Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Danny Vena owns shares of Alphabet (A shares) and Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Facebook, and Twitter. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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