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Social Media: Misinformation and Content Moderation Issues for Congress

CRS Report. Social Media: Misinformation and Content Moderation Issues for Congress, January 27, 2021: “Social media platforms disseminate information quickly to billions of global users. The Pew Research Center estimates that in 2019, 72% of U.S. adults used at least one social media site and that the majority of users visited the site at least once a week. Some Members of Congress are concerned about the spread of misinformation (i.e., incorrect or inaccurate information) on social media platforms and are exploring how it can be addressed by companies that operate social media sites. Other Members are concerned that social media operators’ content moderation practices may suppress speech. Both perspectives have focused on Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. §230), enacted as part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which broadly protects operators of “interactive computer services” from liability for publishing, removing, or restricting access to another’s content. Social media platforms enable users to create individual profiles, form networks, produce content by posting text, images, or videos, and interact with content by commenting on and sharing it with others. Social media operators may moderate the content posted on their sites by allowing certain posts and not others. They prohibit users from posting content that violates copyright law or solicits illegal activity, and some maintain policies that prohibit objectionable content (e.g., certain sexual or violent content) or content that does not contribute to the community or service that they wish to provide. As private companies, social media operators can determine what content is allowed on their sites, and content moderation decisions could be protected under the First Amendment. However, operators’ content moderation practices have created unease that these companies play an outsized role in determining what speech is allowed on their sites, with some commentators stating that operators are infringing on users’ First Amendment rights by censoring speech…”

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