Congress has a significant role to play in defending Americans and our information space against foreign & domestic manipulation. Democratic leaders in Congress have proposed a number of common-sense reforms to combat misinformation, improve transparency, and protect user privacy — many of which have been blocked by Republican members of the U.S. Senate:

  • The For the People Act – This bill addresses voter access, election integrity, election security, political spending, and ethics for the three branches of government.
  • The For the People Act includes a version of the Honest Ads Act, a bill that expands source disclosure requirements for political advertisements by
    • (1) establishing that paid internet and paid digital communications may qualify as “public communications” or “electioneering communications” that may be subject to such requirements, and
    • (2) imposing additional requirements relating to the form of such source disclosures and the information contained within.
    • The bill also requires certain online platform companies to maintain publicly available records about qualified political advertisements that have been purchased on their platforms.
  • The Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act would force online service providers to finally address harms or face potential civil liability. It does so by making clear that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act:
    • Doesn’t apply to ads or other paid content – ensuring that platforms cannot continue to profit as their services are used to target vulnerable consumers;
    • Doesn’t bar injunctive relief – allowing victims to seek court orders where misuse of a provider’s services is likely to cause irreparable harm;
    • Doesn’t impair enforcement of civil rights laws – maintaining the vital and hard-fought protections from discrimination even when activities or services are mediated by internet platforms;
    • Doesn’t interfere with laws that address stalking/cyber-stalking or harassment and intimidation on the basis of protected classes– ensuring that victims of abuse and targeted harassment can hold platforms accountable when they directly enable harmful activity;
    • Doesn’t bar wrongful death actions – allowing the family of a decedent to bring suit against platforms where they may have directly contributed to a loss of life;
    • Doesn’t bar suits under the Alien Tort Claims Act – potentially allowing victims of platform-enabled human rights violations abroad (like the survivors of the Rohingya genocide) to seek redress in U.S. courts against U.S.-based platforms.
  • The Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act narrowly amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to remove liability immunity for a platform if its algorithm is used to amplify or recommend content directly relevant to a case involving interference with civil rights; neglect to prevent interference with civil rights; and in cases involving acts of international terrorism.
  • The Health Misinformation Act:
    • This bill would limit the liability protection that applies to a provider of an interactive computer service (e.g., a social media company) for claims related to content provided by third parties if a provider promotes health misinformation during a declared public health emergency.
    • Specifically, the bill says the liability protection (sometimes referred to as Section 230 protection) shall not apply to a provider that promotes health misinformation using an algorithm unless the algorithm uses a neutral mechanism for the promotion, such as chronological functionality.
    • Requires the Department of Health and Human Services to issue guidance about what constitutes health misinformation within 30 days.
  • The Countering Russian Influence Through Interagency Coordination And Leadership Act:
    • This bill establishes two bodies to address malign foreign influence, the Russia Influence Group and the Commission on Countering Global Malign Influence.
    • The Russia Influence Group shall (1) coordinate and provide guidance on interagency efforts to counter malign Russian influence in Europe and the United States, (2) regularly meet with federal departments and agencies to address specific malign Russian influence tools such as election interference and disinformation, (3) work with U.S. embassies and international actors to counter malign Russian influence in foreign countries, and (4) report to Congress a strategy to counter malign Russian influence.
    • The Commission on Countering Global Malign Influence shall (1) examine global malign influence from sources such as China and Iran, (2) conduct a review of U.S. preparedness to counter such malign influence, and (3) issue a final report on its findings. The commission shall terminate six months after the report is submitted.
  • The Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy Act (links to House and Senate versions) – To promote digital citizenship and media literacy.
  • The Bot Disclosure and Accountability Act of 2019 (links to House and Senate versions) – To protect the right of the American public under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States to receive news and information from disparate sources by regulating the use of automated software programs intended to impersonate or replicate human activity on social media.
  • The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2019:
    • This bill generally prohibits deceptive practices, false statements, and voter interference regarding federal elections. Specifically, the bill prohibits any person, within 60 days before an election, from communicating, causing to be communicated, or producing for communication certain information on voting, if the person (1) knows such information to be materially false, and (2) has the intent to impede or prevent another person from exercising the right to vote in an election.
    • The bill also prohibits false statements regarding public endorsements and hindering, interfering with, or preventing voting or registering to vote.
    • A private right of action for preventive relief is established for persons aggrieved by violations of these prohibitions. Criminal penalties are also established for violations. If the Department of Justice (DOJ) receives a credible report that materially false information has been or is being communicated in violation of these prohibitions, DOJ must communicate to the public accurate information designed to correct the materially false information.
  • The Defending Each and Every Person from False Appearances by Keeping Exploitation Subject to Accountability Act of 2019 – To combat the spread of disinformation through restrictions on deep-fake video alteration technology.
  • The Deep Fake Detection Prize Competition Act – To authorize the Director of the National Science Foundation to establish prize competitions related to deep fake detection technology.
  • The Platform Accountability and Transparency Act – a multi-pronged bill that creates new mechanisms to increase transparency around social media companies’ internal data:
    • Under PATA, independent researchers would be able to submit proposals to the National Science Foundation. If the requests are approved, social media companies would be required to provide the necessary data, subject to certain privacy protections.
    • Companies that failed to comply would be subject to enforcement from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and face the potential loss of immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  
    • Additionally, the bill would give the FTC the authority to require that platforms proactively make certain information available to researchers or the public on an ongoing basis, such as a comprehensive ad library with information about user targeting and engagement.
    • The proposal would also protect researchers from legal liability that may arise from automatically collecting platform information if they comply with various privacy safeguards. 
  • The Social Media Privacy Protection and Consumer Rights Act:
    • This bill requires online platform operators to inform a user, prior to a user creating an account or otherwise using the platform, that the user’s personal data produced during online behavior will be collected and used by the operator and third parties. The operator must provide a user the option to specify privacy preferences, and an operator may deny certain services or complete access to a user if the user’s privacy elections create inoperability in the platform.
    • The operator must (1) offer a user a copy of the personal data of the user that the operator has processed, free of charge, and in an electronic format; and (2) notify a user within 72 hours of becoming aware that the user’s data has been transmitted in violation of the security platform.
    • A violation of the bill’s privacy requirements shall be considered an unfair or deceptive act or practice under the Federal Trade Commission Act. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may enforce this bill against common carriers regulated by the Federal Communications Commission under the Communications Act of 1934 and nonprofit organizations. Currently, common carriers regulated under that act are exempt from the FTC’s enforcement authority, and nonprofit organizations are subject to FTC enforcement only if they provide substantial economic benefit to their for-profit members.
    • A state may bring a civil action in federal court regarding such violations.

In order to combat online disinformation and protect the integrity of the 2020 elections, Senate Republicans must work with Democrats to pass these crucial reforms. If you have one, call your Republican Senator(s) at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to support these crucial pieces of legislation.

In the absence of Republican action, here’s what individuals can do to be vigilant:

DNC Counter Disinformation Recommendations for the General Public