Senators Klobuchar And Lujan Release Ridiculous, Blatantly Unconstitutional Bill To Make Facebook Liable For Health Misinformation
from the stop-this-nonsense dept
On Wednesday, Senator Amy Klobuchar promised to introduce a bill that would somehow hold Facebook liable for medical misinformation. As we wrote in the post about her claims, that doesn’t explain how there would be any legitimate underlying cause of action, because nearly all such medical misinformation is still protected by the 1st Amendment.
Yesterday Klobuchar, along with Senator Ben Ray Lujan, introduced their bill: the Health Misinformation Act of 2021. To say it’s unconstitutional would be giving it too much credit. To say that it wouldn’t even remotely do anything useful would be to state the obvious. To say that it’s a grandstanding piece of absolute nonsense would be about the best thing I could think of. It’s garbage in so many ways.
The actual functioning of the bill would be to add an exception to Section 230’s protections, saying that they no longer apply — if it’s in the midst of a health crisis — for medical misinformation. It would add the following “EXCEPTION” to Section 230:
A provider of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of health misinformation that is created or developed through the interactive computer service during a covered period if the provider promotes that health misinformation through an algorithm used by the provider (or similar software functionality), except that this subparagraph shall not apply if that promotion occurs through a neutral mechanism, such as through the use of chronological functionality
And, this law would only be in effect during a public health emergency, as declared by the Secretary of Health & Human Services. The law would also require the Secretary of Health & Human Services to “issue guidance regarding what constitutes health misinformation.” That last bit should make you grimace, because that’s a hugely problematic thing for the 1st Amendment. Having the government define what is and what is not “health misinformation” cannot possibly pass 1st Amendment scrutiny by a court.
It’s also incredibly dumb. First of all, in a “public health emergency” like we’re currently going through, what is and what is not “health misinformation” is not always clear, and involves constantly changing information. Remember, we went through this with the whole “wearing masks” thing at the very beginning of the pandemic. Then, you had the WHO and CDC advise against wearing masks. Under this bill, you could have had the HHS boss claim that anyone promoting mask wearing was engaging in health misinformation… and somehow try to make Facebook liable for it. Would that have been a good idea?
Even worse: imagine what kind of information might be declared “health misinformation” by disingenuous grandstanders? Pro-choice information? Information about transgender health?
But, going back a step: what would this law actually do, even if it weren’t so blatantly unconstitutional? The answer is absolutely fucking nothing. Because, as we pointed out on Wednesday, you still need an underlying cause of action and there is none here. Okay, so now Facebook is magically “liable” for health misinformation? But as soon as anyone sues, Facebook says “that content is protected speech, so there’s no cause of action here” and the court dismisses the case. Whether we like it or not, nearly all misinformation is still protected under the 1st Amendment. And, for the reasons discussed earlier, that’s probably a good thing — because otherwise, you’ll have the government declaring things you agree with as misinformation, and that leads to very dangerous places.
This entire bill is not just grandstanding nonsense, but a waste of time. Yes, we should be looking for ways to better educate the public about the actual efficacy of (massively successful) COVID-19 vaccines. And, yes we need to figure out better ways to reach those who are skeptical about vaccines or hesitant to get the vaccine. But this bill does none of that. It just throws a bunch of garbage out so that Klobuchar can stand before the TV cameras and pretend to do something. It’s the worst kind of political grandstanding.
And, while we’re talking about how ridiculous this is, let’s just throw in a giant “oh shut the fuck up” to Facebook as well for putting out a total garbage statement in response:
“We have long supported common industry standards and section 230 reform. We believe clarification on the difficult and urgent questions about health related misinformation would be helpful and look forward to working with Congress and the industry as we consider options for reform.”
What a bunch of garbage. Facebook knows that this bill is a mess of nonsense, and that the 1st Amendment would stop it from having any impact. Rather than putting out a compliant, suck up statement, why can’t Facebook speak up about what it’s actually doing to try to deal with health misinformation on the site? That would be interesting and that has mostly been absent from this discussion beyond whatever uninformed nonsense is being stated by people outside the company about what they think Facebook is doing (which is either “nothing” according to many ignorant folks, or “censoring conservatives!” according to another bunch of equally ignorant folks). If Facebook came out and actually explained what it really is doing that would be helpful. But, of course, Facebook is trying to play the politics of all of this, rather than doing the right thing.