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Congress Tangles With Big Internet

by Countable | 9.19.17

What’s the story?

The debate surrounding the role of internet companies in preventing sex trafficking and other illegal activities from occurring on their networks took center stage today in the Senate.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee met Tuesday morning to discuss a bill known as the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) that would overhaul Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That law shields companies like Facebook from being held liable for actions taken by users of their platform.

Why does it matter?

Proponents of SESTA — such as Oracle and 21st Century Fox — argue that technology companies need to be held accountable if they’re allowing sex trafficking and other criminal activity to go on within their platforms. They say "it would establish some measure of accountability for those that cynically sell advertising but are unprepared to help curtail sex trafficking."

SESTA’s detractors — like the Internet Association which represents Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and others — say the bill would undermine First Amendment protections on the internet by exposing virtually any company that allows user-generated content to civil lawsuits. They fear it would allow "opportunistic trial lawyers to bring a deluge of frivolous litigation targeting legitimate, law-abiding intermediaries and create the potential for unpredictable, inconsistent enforcement".

What do you think?

Should technology companies be held liable for illegal activities done by users of their platforms? Would exposing those companies to liability interfere with their First Amendment rights and lead to frivolous lawsuits?

Tell us in the comments what you think then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

— Eric Revell

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(Photo Credit: coldsnowstorm / iStock)

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(60)
  • Brian
    09/19/2017
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    This is a slippery slope. I'm not sure either side of the argument is right. On one hand I don't think it is unreasonable to hold social media sites to some standard where sex trade is concerned. On the other hand I believe in a free and open web. This issue is going to require a real tough solution. I'm not going to pretend to have an answer other than that. I think this is issue will require some really forward thinking.

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  • Gary
    09/19/2017
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    If we hold internet companies & possibly television stations...should we not apply the same standard to politicians???

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  • Bluewitsend
    09/19/2017
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    Illegal content is illegal and companies that allow it should be held accountable if they knowingly allow it. If you can invent a platform you should be able find illegal content and stop it or at least be able to show where you gave it your best shot. If the content is truly illegal it should not be an argument of free speech. We have got to get some rules and guidelines in place for this type of thing. The internet should not be a Wild West of lawlessness and degradation.

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  • Yours.Truly
    09/19/2017
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    This bill is well-intentioned but it's going to result in carriers and platforms being held liable for stuff that's really beyond their control.

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  • I.Got.an.Idea...
    09/19/2017
    ···

    How about requiring the companies to implement a policy that states " If an employee of the company or the company is informed or becomes aware of possible illegal sex trafficking or sex solicitation, the company must be responsible to inform appropriate agencies and take appropriate actions within company to address the issue."

    Like (11)
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  • TracyEckels
    09/19/2017
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    This is a kin to television networks not being held responsible for the erroneous claims of their advertisers.

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  • Todd
    09/19/2017
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    This is just the government trying to turn internet companies into online nannies and law enforcement foisting their jobs off on someone else. There is way to much user-generated content for Facebook, Twitter, etc. to be the playground teacher. Nor would we want them to be.

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  • Claude
    09/19/2017
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    Is the phone company responsible for what you say on a call? This is the same thing except that sometimes the content is public. Do we want phone companies or internet media companies or email services to spy on everything we say and judge our intent. We cannot demand free speech or privacy and also make private parties responsible for our speech. So this bill is a very bad idea.

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  • Andrew
    09/19/2017
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    NAY. First amendment rights apply!!

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  • Michael
    09/19/2017
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    Not to condone illegal activity, but this feels like an attempt of the government to circumvent the Fourth Amendment. It is illegal for law enforcement to arbitrarily monitor us, so they enlist the network operators to do it and report back any "suspicious" (by their definition, of course) activity that is then made actionable. And they push it using the most heinous crimes of all as the rallying cry.

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  • Gordy
    09/19/2017
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    They have to go after sex traffickers, humans are not for sale! That being said, does anybody know that human trafficking is an alarming problem on our southern border, but that is too political to do anything with so it is what it is! If government has proved anything the last 20 years it is how they abuse any program designed for " we the people" for thier political agendas,and now if this bill goes threw, then thier foot is in the door! We have to end human trafficking, why is the answer to everything is to give government more power and more power to control content,sorry but I think most politicians will abuse this program,governments number one job is to protect the american people, this is America and we're still standing around playing blame games like a bunch of children instead of being responsible!

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  • Melinda
    09/19/2017
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    Anyone who knowingly hosts a sex trafficking site, such as Google is now doing, should be held legally accountable. Web hosting sites cannot be oblivious to an online business that trafficks in human beings. This is horrific.

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  • Cherilee
    09/19/2017
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    Need to hold internet companies responsible for hosting illegal sites. Should have a transparent review process that seeks these sites out & blocks them.

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  • AlexRoseSc
    09/19/2017
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    The Big Internet needs to do their part, they need to be held accountable, and they owe us transparency

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  • Stephen
    09/19/2017
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    I’m with Sesta, you do the policing Congress. Or give up your comfy salaries and healthcare and work for the good of the American people.

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  • Gail
    09/20/2017
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    When the President of the United States releases a video of himself blasting a golf ball to knock down Hillary Clinton, America, has lost all moral authority by condoning violence against women. It is hard to inject morality into the workings of the internet when the President repeatedly indicates he has none. America is utterly disgraced as are politicians providing cover to the President through cowardly silence.

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  • Sheryl
    09/20/2017
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    Here again we have the fine line between personal freedom and safety. I am going to vote on the side of safety but remain open to being wrong. If it saves just one human trafficking victim or child slave it will be worth it in my mind.

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  • Ticktock
    09/19/2017
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    As with any business there are laws and regulations that apply. ISPs have the ability, responsibility and can be given the legal authority to monitor the content that they allow to post on their services. When magazines, books, newspapers or any other written media is published there are always standards that are maintained whether legal or otherwise. ISPs are no different they are providing a conduit for entities to put forth ideas or information just as a publishing house does with a novel or an editor for a newspaper and they should be held responsible for the content of their media stream. Freedom of speech is incredibly important but along with that right comes responsibility of its use. If the ISPs want the right to exercise the First Amendment then like books, newspapers or all other media the content should be clearly labeled for it’s veracity, content and the sources clearly identified. Those accuracy of the records should be verified and maintained. Any entity which falsifies anything on their application should be band from the internet all together. It’s time that the internet ceases emulating the wild, Wild West. To much is at risk today. Not only our morals but also our freedom.

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  • Norm
    09/20/2017
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    I get the emotional, legal, and most importantly to the tech companies is the financial motivation. The issues are multiple it seems to me and lead in several different directions. One direction is protecting women but how would that be carried out through these companies. Another direction is the Hugh porn industry which Americans and the rest of the world have an huge appetite for. You can't deal with these directions and issues without the other. They trigger and promote each other throughout the internet and world. I say let's stop being wishy washy about what we value in our selves. This bill is too short short sighted.

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  • Ramsey
    09/20/2017
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    SESA would do more harm than good. There are far better and narrowly tailored options to go after sex traffickers than to restrict the freedom of speech of individuals online. There are already measures in place under the 2015 SAFE Act that allow for federal prosecution. Instead of passing laws that are detrimental to free speech let's enforce the laws already on the books.

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