To combat online disinformation, criminalize voter suppression

This week, Senator Joe Mansion announce It will not support HR 1, a comprehensive electoral reform law passed by the House and lingering in the Senate, effectively torpedoing its passage. But policymakers should not scrap the bill entirely. For lawmakers who are serious about expanding the platform’s responsibility to fight online misinformation, some provisions hidden in the depths of HR 1 provide one of the best options for reform.

Several lawmakers who have been reluctant to support HR1, including Senator Manchin, have announce A strong desire to regulate online misinformation, specifically calling for Section 230 reform to expand the responsibility of the technology platform. What is missing from the HR 1 controversy is the fact that provisions — buried in hundreds of pages of thick legislative language for the bill — will make technology platforms responsible for a key type of online misinformation: voter suppression. outside the dozens Of the proposals to reform Section 230, this section of Human Resources 1 is one of the most promising.

HR 1 expands Statute liability by criminalizing voter suppression. While Section 230 makes it difficult to hold platforms responsible for the content they host in cases brought under state or federal law civil Law, does Not Bar association lawsuits based on federal criminal law. Any case that uses federal criminal law as a basis for liability is essentially immune to Section 230.

HR 1 brings together several previously submitted bills that seek to reform the electoral process. One of them is deceptive practices and the prevention of voter intimidation Represent, making false statements regarding “time, place, or manner” or elections, “qualifications or restrictions on voter eligibility,” or public endorsement is a federal crime. Currently, there is no federal law prohibiting these practices.

The bill was introduced in 2007 by Senator Barack Obama. At that time, Obama pointed Intimidation and disinformation efforts “usually target voters who live in minority or low-income neighborhoods.” He claimed that the legislation “will ensure, for the first time, that these incidents are fully investigated and those found guilty are punished.” (The bill lay dormant shortly after Obama began his presidential campaign.)

Although the bill was revealed a decade ago before the Russian Internet Research Agency and Macedonian teens became a routine feature of headlines, it foresaw some of the challenges in online communication we face today. If passed, it would be the first US federal law to include criminal penalties for spreading misinformation online.

Criminalizing voter suppression will not only expand the statute’s liability for voting misinformation. Probably too deter Some people use online disinformation campaigns to try to suppress voting, whereby prosecutors can pursue cases against perpetrators who engage in deceptive practices. It will also give the platforms a basis for working with law enforcement on voter suppression issues. While the platforms are available on a regular basis data In response to law enforcement requests today, they only do so after receiving legal Request. Without applicable law, federal law enforcement cannot issue a legal request, and platforms do not have a legal basis for providing data. With the new law, the government can require relevant data held by platforms, and platforms can comply.

This solution is not perfect. Critics are likely to challenge the law’s constitutionality under the First Amendment. In the past, the Supreme Court was skeptical about laws restricting electoral speech, even though it did supported Laws necessary to “protect voters from confusion and undue influence” and “to ensure[e] The individual’s right to vote is not undermined by fraud in the electoral process.

Legal cases against the platforms will also face serious challenges. To establish liability for a platform, the prosecutor will need to prove that the statement is “materially false”, and that the platform He knew The statement was false, and that it had “intent to impede or prevent another person from exercising the right to vote”. Proving all of this will be difficult, especially in cases where platforms only host user-published content.

Changing the law may also not change the platform’s policies or behavior significantly, given that many platforms already prohibit voter suppression. Twitter, for example, block Posting or sharing content that may suppress participation or mislead people about when, where and how to participate in a civic process.

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