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Congress Should Take "Filtering Practices of Social Media" Seriously

Tomorrow, the House Judiciary Committee will host what’s likely to be a wide-ranging discussion of how social media companies moderate content, in its hearing on Filtering Practices of Social Media Platforms. While the hearing is sure to include some spectacle and grandstanding, make no mistake: This is a deeply serious issue that deserves thoughtful consideration by policymakers, companies, and users alike. Here are a few key themes we hope members of the committee will consider.

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Who Needs Courts? A Deeper Look At the European Commission’s Plans to Speed Up Content Takedowns

Today, the European Commission released its “Recommendation on measures to effectively tackle illegal content online”, which presents the Commission’s ideas for how to speed up removal of allegedly illegal content. The Recommendation includes a number of departures from the traditional court-order process, which provides both substantive and procedural protections for individuals whose speech is challenged under the law. Instead, the Commission relies on several approaches to speedy censorship that circumvent the courts and provide the public with no way to hold the government accountable for declaring that someone’s speech violates the law. We provide a closer look at these alternative censorship models, which have been gaining traction in Europe over the past few years.

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EC Recommendation on Tackling Illegal Content Online Doubles Down on Push for Privatized Law Enforcement

The European Commission published its “Recommendation on measures to effectively tackle illegal content online”, which puts forward a number of non-binding guidelines and principles for online platforms and hosts of user-generated content. These recommendations go beyond the ill-defined approach the Commission took in its “Communication on Tackling Illegal Content Online”. While we recognize the Commission’s interest in seeking effective enforcement of national law, we continue to have significant concerns about the Commission’s overall approach and a number of its specific recommendations.

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Goodlatte’s Online Trafficking Bill Makes Key Improvements, But Risks to Free Speech Persist

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a markup on HR 1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). The Committee will consider an amendment to the original FOSTA in the form of a substitute bill offered by Chairman Goodlatte. This bill includes a number of improvements over both the original House bill and the SESTA bill in the Senate, and we appreciate the Committee’s diligent efforts to craft a more tailored legislative approach. But CDT remains concerned that increasing the risk of criminal charges and civil claims against website operators and other online intermediaries will result in overbroad censorship of constitutionally protected speech.  

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Four Questions Senators Should Ask at Tomorrow’s SESTA Hearing

Members of Congress must seriously consider the consequences of altering one of the cornerstones of the open internet in the US, the law known as Section 230. Tomorrow, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on S.1693, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). CDT and many other organizations have opposed SESTA. As members Committee consider SESTA the hearing, here are several questions that they should be asking.

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SESTA Would Undermine Free Speech Online

A group of Senators led by Senators Portman and McCaskill introduced a bill that would radically change the way that US law protects freedom of speech online. The bill, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 (SESTA), would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, as well as the federal criminal code, creating substantial new risks for any host of user-generated content online.

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German Social Media Law Creates Strong Incentives for Censorship

Social media companies and other hosts of third-party content will soon face potential fines of €50 million in Germany if they fail to promptly censor speech that may violate German law. Last week, the German parliament approved the NetzDG legislation, which goes into effect 1 October and will require social media sites and other hosts of user-generated content to remove “obviously illegal” speech within 24 hours of being notified of it. This is one of the most extreme online censorship bills that we have seen from a liberal democracy to date. CDT was critical of this bill when it was first introduced, and we’re deeply concerned that the German parliament has now adopted it.

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Celebrating Twenty Years of Free Speech Online

Twenty years ago today, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Reno v ACLU, the first case in which the Court considered the relationship between the First Amendment and the untested medium of the Internet. This was a pivotal case that required the Court to grapple with the technical characteristics of this new communications medium and to consider how decades of First Amendment doctrine should apply to a technology beyond the Founders’ wildest dreams.

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Twitter Transparency Report Shines a Light on Variety of Ways Governments Seek to Restrict Speech Online

Transparency isn’t an end in itself. Rather, it’s a crucial vehicle for understanding the forces that shape our online experiences. Twitter’s latest report breaks ground by publishing new data about the complex interactions that social media companies can have with governments who are seeking to restrict content online. In this post, we dig into the report and discuss what it reveals about the mounting pressure from governments that intermediaries face to censor user speech.

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